Graphic by Mark Schaefer
The Maryland Legislature recently passed a bill giving Maryland school systems the ability to extend the school year for up to five days to June 20 from the current June 15 end date without having to apply for for a mandatory waiver, as previously required.
While the bill partially contradicts Governor Larry Hogan’s 2016 executive order to start schools after Labor Day and end by June 15, Hogan recently signed the bill into law. The original executive order initially angered MCPS officials as it provided little wiggle room in calendar planning, as they must balance the state-required 180-day school year with a number of professional days for teachers and sufficient breaks for staff and students, all while taking into account possible school closures for inclement weather.
Amelia Chasse, a spokesperson for Hogan, indicated his approval of the new bill saying that the governor recognizes that “unforeseen inclement weather can happen” and that “schools occasionally need additional flexibility,” according to a March 28 WTOP article.
The bill does not change the post-labor day date, but was just signed by Gov. Hogan and made into an emergency bill, meaning it takes effect immediately, and gives the MCPS Board of Education (BOE) immediate flexibility.
“I think [the bill is] a good thing,” principal Billie-Jean Bensen said. “It will give us a little more flexibility certainly on years when the calendar has more days when schools are typically, at least in Montgomery County, off.”
Currently, the last day of this school year has been pushed to June 15 due to emergency weather closures, and to comply with the state-mandated 180 days of instructional activity. The bill will not affect the school calendar this year as 180 days will have been completed.
However, questions arise for the implementation of the bill into next year’s calendar. The 2018-19 school calendar has already been finalized and includes a start date of Sept. 4 and a tentative end date of June 14, with a total of 182 instructional days. However, there has been a decrease in professional days and days off, such as spring break being shortened to four days.
“We are currently, and with other counties, seeking legal clarification on the interpretation of how the legislation will be implemented,” Executive Director of the Office of the Chief Operating Officer Essie McGuire said. “Once we have that clarification, we will consider whether there is the opportunity or need for any changes to the 2018-2019 calendar.”
The process of school calendar planning and creation starts in the preceding year with an internal group of staff who develop parameters for the instructional days, including quarter endings, marking periods and testing. Then, applying state and federal requirements for closures, multiple proposals are submitted, which go through various meetings and input from community and school groups. These proposals are reviewed by the BOE’s Policy Management Committee, who make recommendations for evaluation by the full Board. The full Board approves and adopts the final calendar around December.