Students will have shorter spring breaks in some Maryland school systems, as local leaders begin to adopt plans for next school year that align with Gov. Larry Hogan’s recent mandate to extend the summer recess through Labor Day.
At least three districts — in Anne Arundel, Carroll and Baltimore counties — have scrapped a big part of their spring vacation to make the new schedule work. Others, including Frederick County, have proposed doing so. In suburban Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, officials are still deciding how to rearrange their academic calendars.
“We didn’t have a lot of options,” said Charles McDaniels Jr., chairman of the Baltimore County Board of Education, who said starting school after Labor Day is a popular idea but it meant finding extra school days. The county reduced its spring break from longer than a week to a four-day weekend: “I think spring break took the big hit.”
Under Hogan’s executive order, the state’s 24 school districts can’t open before Labor Day and must end by June 15. But to meet that compressed timeline and still maintain the required 180 academic days or more per school year, districts have had to consider trade-offs.
In Montgomery County, the state’s largest school system, the school board recently voted to make Sept. 5 the first day of school and end no later than June 15 to comply with the order. But details about spring break and other considerations are slated for a vote in December.
“I think spring break is sort of in limbo,” said school board member Patricia O’Neill, who said that one scenario a board committee considered in September would have reduced spring break if there are more than three snow days in the 2017-2018 school year.
Prince George’s officials started to seek community comment on the issue last week, with one possibility including scheduling make-up days for potential inclement weather during spring break.
Many parents probably don’t realize spring break is at risk, said Paul Geller, president of Montgomery’s countywide council of PTAs.
In some school systems, spring break has often included six days off from school, two that are required by state law — Good Friday and Easter Monday — and four additional days.
“In many ways, spring break is a time-honored tradition,” Geller said, noting that some families travel or use the time to reconnect or pause and reflect. He said he would expect to hear “displeasure” about reducing or ending it.
The Anne Arundel County school board cut spring break in half — from six days to three — as part of a calendar adopted in early November. In Baltimore County, the board scaled the spring vacation back even further to the state-required days off for Good Friday and Easter Monday, giving students a four-day weekend. A similar proposal is under consideration in Frederick County, where public comment has been pouring in.
“When you have a defined start and a defined end, there aren’t a ton of options available to you in the middle,” said Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel’s public schools.
Hogan (R) issued his executive order Aug. 31, saying that a longer summer break would benefit families and the economy, and that districts could seek waivers from the order based on “compelling justification.”
In late September, the Maryland State Board of Education took steps to open up the waiver process, and Montgomery’s school board voted to seek a waiver, hoping to make a worthy case to start next school year on Aug. 28, the week before the Labor Day holiday, as it does now.
But shortly after Montgomery’s vote, Hogan unexpectedly weighed in again, revising his executive order to make it nearly impossible for most school districts to qualify for waivers.
Following the revised executive order, just one school system — Allegany, in northwestern Maryland — has announced that it intends to apply for a waiver, a request based on its history of severe-weather closings, state education officials say.
Losing spring break could be tough on students if some families keep to their usual plans and don’t send children to school during that period, said Valerie Coll, a third-grade teacher at Flora M. Singer Elementary School. “The instruction is consecutive,” she said. “Everything you’re doing builds on what you have done before.”
Local leaders say academic calendars are harder to configure than it might seem because the school year must be at least 180 days, and state law requires public school holidays including Thanksgiving and the day afterward; Dec. 24 to Jan. 1; Good Friday and Easter Monday; Martin Luther King Jr. Day; Presidents’ Day; Memorial Day; and election days.
On top of that, school districts designate professional days for teachers, and each system has locally driven priorities, such as closings on Jewish holidays, parent-teacher conferences or the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
The other big unknown that districts face is how to plan for weather-related school closings and their effect on the schedule, said Montgomery School Board President Michael Durso. “How do we handle a potential difficult winter?” he asked. “It’s a wild card.”
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the post-Labor Day start is popular with families and suggested that districts could find solutions other than cutting spring break.
“While it is certainly good news that many counties are moving forward with this process, it is disappointing that some school boards are opting to reduce spring break and other holidays when their proposed calendars include numerous days off for union service,” he said. “It’s just another example of special interests getting what they want instead of doing what is best for our students, parents, and teachers.”
Mayer also noted some school systems give teachers a day off for the state teachers convention in Ocean City, which he called “shameful.”
“The very same people who have been complaining about classroom time are taking time away from the classroom so they can attend their union convention in Ocean City,” he said. “Why can’t they have their convention in the summer?”
District officials say they allot few professional days that affect their school-year calendar and spring break. Montgomery had three in 2016-2017, one after each of the first three quarters. Anne Arundel has two next year, one between semesters and one for the teachers convention.
“The calendar is not chock full of professional days,” said O’Neill, of Montgomery County, who said she would invite someone from the governor’s office to “come see the work of the calendar committee as everyone struggles with this.”