Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Tuesday amended his order to start school after Labor Day, setting narrow terms for districts to seek waivers and appearing to make it nearly impossible for school districts to get approvalto start before Labor Day.
The new rules, released more than a month after Hogan’s mandate, take much of the decision-making power out of the hands of the Maryland State Board of Education and come as school districts across the state scurry to approve their 2017-18 calendars.
Under Hogan’s original executive order, schools must open after Labor Day and end by June 15. But districts could seek waivers based on a “compelling justification.” The governor did not spell out what that meant.
Under the amended order, Hogan largely limits a “compelling justification” to several circumstances, involving either a charter school with an innovative schedule; certain low-performing or at-risk schools with innovative schedules, such as year-round or extended year calendars; or a district that has had 10 emergency or weather-related closings a year at least twice during the past five years.
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said the governor changed the executive order to address concerns raised by the state board members about putting together regulations in time for district officials to set their calendars for the coming school year.
“The governor heard the concerns from the members of the state Board of Education that they needed more guidance and time to deal with this issue,” Mayer said. “This is an effort to alleviate the clear concerns. . . that they had concerning the waiver process and timing issues.”
Last month, the state Board of Education voted unanimously to ask state staff members to draft guidance that makes it clear ”the board intends, beginning immediately, to approve expeditiously requests for waivers from the calendar limits” set by Hogan’s order.
That decision appeared to present a pathway for school systems to circumvent Hogan’s mandate, but the governor’s move on Monday came before the state board could proceed in that direction.
“It seems to me that this governor has intentionally put the brakes on the state board proceeding with multiple waivers,” said State Board Member Chester E. Finn Jr. “It’s evident that a number of districts are ready to ask for them. This pretty clearly seeks to make that impossible.”
The underlying question, Finn said, is who really has the authority at the state level to make the decision, and whether the issue is a state matter in the first place.
“Should this be decided by the state or by districts?” he asked. “Is this the state’s business? And if it is, who at the state level decides? I would say that’s up for grabs.”
Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), who sought an opinion from the Attorney General on whether Hogan exceeded his authority by issuing the original order, said Tuesday that Hogan has “gone way too far. . . It’s an abuse of power.”
“He seems to be going to battle with his own Republican-nominated school board,” he said. “He’s stripping their authority.”
Pinsky said he is not sure whether the issue will end up in the courts, or if the legislature will address the issue next session.
In Montgomery County, school officials voted Monday to seek a waiver that would allow an Aug. 28 start to the school year.
The board’s resolution noted the importance of such issues as reducing summer learning loss — when students lose ground academically during the long break from school — and preserving instructional time in the event that schools are closed for emergencies.
Andy Smarick, president of the state board, said Monday night that the board would review the amended executive order at its next meeting, in late October.