New Start Dates for Md. Schools


Maryland governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order Aug. 31 that requires all Md. public schools to start after Labor Day and end by June 15 for 2017-18.
Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) applied for a waiver Oct. 10 to begin the 2017-18 school year before Labor Day, Aug. 28, and end June 14.
According to Hogan, the executive order will benefit businesses and families. His goals are to save money by reducing air-conditioning costs, bridge the racial and socioeconomic achievement gap, maximize opportunities during the summer to prepare students for standardized testing and reduce child care time for working families.
“Comptroller [Peter] Franchot and I believe, and the people of Maryland strongly agree, that this … puts the best interests of Marylanders first, especially the well-being of our students,” Hogan said at a news conference in Ocean City, Md. “This action is long overdue, and it is simply the right thing to do.”
Hogan’s efforts have upset the state’s largest school district, MCPS. MCPS claimed in a press release that this impedes the creation of their school calendar, as they have to balance mandatory days and community needs. They said Hogan failed to consider the critical problems faced by schools and the potential negative impact on students.
MCPS released a public announcement regarding the new waiver on their website Oct. 10, saying, “The Board believes that this calendar option helps meet the district’s operational, labor relations, and instructional objectives, including, but not limited to: sufficient instructional time for students; reduced loss of learning during an extended summer period; opportunity to preserve instructional time in the event schools are closed for emergencies…”
The earlier date is for an extra week of preparations for standardized testing such as AP, IB, PARCC and the HSA. One concern is that with the order, there will be less preparation time for these tests, and combined with potential snow days next year, there will not be enough days to prepare students.
“It’s going to come down to the teachers knowing their exams and having to cut information that was probably fun and exciting for the kids,” social studies teacher Christine Zafonte, who teaches AP and IB psychology, said. “But because it won’t be tested, it’s going to have to be cut so they could cover all the material that’s needed.”
The BOE’s Policy Management Committee originally submitted three different calendar options Sept. 20 to the BOE for consideration. Two options were to start after Labor Day and the other was to start before. Parents, staff and the community came together to provide feedback and decided to officially submit the waiver to the State Board to start before Labor Day.
“We will not be able to know the effect … until after a calendar is adopted by the [BOE] in November/December,” Derek Turner, Director of the Department of Public Information and Web Services, said. “MCPS will continue to work with community stakeholders and the BOE to determine the best school year calendar for our students.”
In the past, MCPS traditionally started after Labor Day, but changed after the community consistently pushed for earlier start dates in the interest of students and parents. They believe that debates about school start days should remain at the local level in order for flexibility in community feedback and engagement.
“I have been around in MCPS long enough to remember when we used to go after Labor Day. So it’s not impossible, it’s just different than what we’ve grown accustomed to,” principal Billie-Jean Bensen said. “We’ve gotten used to the bell schedules, so we’ve survived that. And it’s all worked out okay.”
The next scheduled State Board meeting where they are expected to further discuss the issues is Oct. 25.