Legislation Could Provide Local Schools with Flexibility on Holidays

Closing schools for Presidents’ Day could become optional for Maryland school districts under a bill (HB 400) being considered in the General Assembly.

The same could happen to Easter Monday.

Concerned about Governor Larry Hogan’s 2016 executive order requiring the state’s 24 school districts to start classes after Labor Day and end by June 15, several state lawmakers want to give local jurisdictions flexibility by removing Presidents’ Day and Easter Monday from the state’s list of mandatory public school holidays.

As reported in The Washington Post,

“These couple of days would be important to the school schedule,” said Del. Pamela G. Beidle (D-Anne Arundel), the chief sponsor of the bill.

The bill’s chances at passage are not clear. Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), vice chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, called the idea of canceling long-standing holidays a slippery slope.

“What’s next?,” he said. “Martin Luther King Day? Labor Day?”

Last August, Hogan (R) signed an executive order dictating the start and end of school, saying the change would benefit families and the economy. Almost every school district in the state had been starting the academic year before Labor Day.

Although the promise of a longer summer vacation earned strong support from the public, many educators and Democratic lawmakers said the change would cut into learning and test-preparation time.

Hogan’s order led to the resignation of the vice president of the state Board of Education, who accused the governor of usurping the independent board’s authority.

In the meantime, school districts scrambled to ensure that their 2017-2018 school calendars adhered to the order. Anne Arundel County cut its spring break from one week to three days. Montgomery County reduced its number of scheduled school days from 184 to 182, with just two days allotted for bad weather.

John Woolums, director of government relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said Beidle’s bill would provide “much needed” options as districts set up academic calendars, which must take into account state testing schedules, teacher in-service days and required holidays.

Current public-school holidays include Thanksgiving Day and the day after, Christmas Eve through Jan. 1, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, the Friday before Easter through the Monday after Easter, Memorial Day, and, for most counties, primary and general-election days.

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor is pleased that nearly all Maryland counties are moving forward with “this return to common-sense scheduling.”

She said that starting school after Labor Day is “the right thing to do for Maryland families and students” and that instead of “focusing on [canceling] holidays, school districts should focus on removing the many unnecessary union services days.”

Chasse said Hogan will decide whether to sign the Presidents’ Day/Easter Monday measure if it reaches his desk.

In addition to Beidle’s bill, Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) has a bill that would allow a school district that has to close schools because of a state of emergency to reduce the 180-day required school year by up to five days without seeking a waiver from the state Board of Education.

The bill was requested by the Montgomery County school system, the largest in the state, with more than 159,200 students. It has the support of other school districts, as well.

Montgomery’s school board was able to meet Hogan’s requirements for the 2017-2018 school calendar, but school system spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said, “It’s going to be tough in the future.” Montgomery has scheduled 182 class days next school year.

Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel County Schools Superintendent George Arlotto, said the school district sought a waiver from the state board two years ago to open on Easter Monday to make up for a snow day. If the legislation passes, he said, the district could decide on its own, without needing the state’s permission, to open or close on that day and Presidents’ Day.

“It’s the flexibility that we need in the calendar with the hard start and hard stop date established by the governor’s executive order,” he said.

Pinsky, a vocal opponent of Hogan’s order, says that school districts should legally challenge Hogan over it.

Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s office issued an opinion last year that the governor may have exceeded his authority. Frosh (D) also said the legislature could overturn the executive order, but there has been no legislation introduced to do that.

Useful Links

The Washington Post Article

Previous Conduit Street Coverage on the School Calendar Debate