Hogan’s back-to-school order means a time crunch for some Md. districts

WASHINGTON — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order requiring schools to push back reopening after summer vacation until after Labor Day means some school districts will have to squeeze a full year of teaching into a shorter time frame.

That’s because in addition to mandating a school-free August, Hogan’s order also requires schools to wrap up teaching no later than June 15 each year.

Some school systems say that time crunch could force them to cut back on breaks throughout the year, such as spring break, or cut teacher training days.

Adhering to the governor’s schedule is expected to lead to some planning headaches — especially for those districts that have gradually lengthened their school years of late, experts say.

“You really force those districts that are currently starting before Labor Day or going after the 15th to compress the school year,” Jennifer Steele, an education professor at American University, told WTOP.

For example, Montgomery County schools opened its doors to students Aug. 29, and the school year there runs through June 16 — one day later than the new cutoff mandated by Hogan. Before Hogan issued his order, the school board had discussed starting even earlier next year.

The president of the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education issued a statement strongly objecting to the governor’s order.

“Prohibiting schools from starting before Labor Day ignores critical issues faced by schools and the potential negative instructional impact on students,” board president Michael Durso said in a statement.

The head of the teachers union in Montgomery County voiced concerns.

“We don’t support this change,” said Chris Lloyd, president of the Montgomery County Education Association.  “We have concerns about the extended summer vacation.”

The summer break will be 11 weeks long under the new schedule.

“It can produce a summer slide, a loss of achievement for kids both in reading and math,” Lloyd said.  “In addition, many of our children in poverty rely upon schools for meals, both breakfast and lunch.”

Raven Hill, a spokeswoman for Prince George’s County Public Schools, said Hogan’s order would require the school system to “severely shorten” its calendar and said that could lead to cutting back on spring and winter breaks, staff-development days and eliminating non-state mandated holidays.

Under Hogan’s order, Baltimore County, which started classes two weeks before Labor Day and holds classes through June 15, would have to trim nearly two weeks throughout the school year to meet Hogan’s new summer-friendly timeline.

The Anne Arundel County Public Schools said in a statement that “while there may well be some legal and legislative efforts to alter [Hogan’s move], it is important for all school system stakeholders to understand the impact of this double-ended squeeze.”

Under the county’s current 2017-2018 school calendar, the school year begins Aug. 21 and ends June 11, including five days built in for emergency closings. Many of the days off that are built into the current calendar can’t be changed due to federal and state law, in the case of days such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, or contracts with staff, such as the day after Thanksgiving.

Others could be changed to school days, such as Maryland State Education Association Convention day, but that would cause headaches and cost money, since teachers are contractually allowed to attend the convention, the statement read. And since the first semester must be 90 days, timing the semester break would cause more problems.

And the school system points out that accommodating the mandate could be even harder later on: 2017 isn’t an election year, and Yom Kippur falls on a weekend. In future years, those days will have to be accounted for as well.

Will the time squeeze impact students’ education?

Hogan said the order doesn’t reduce the minimum number of legally required teaching days — 180. And in announcing the move, he pointed to a nonpartisan task force commissioned in 2013 by his Democratic predecessor Martin O’Malley that found “no compelling evidence” a post-Labor Day start date would impact students’ education.

Steele, the education professor, told WTOP the overall impact of the move on classroom learning would most likely be “quite modest.”

However, the Maryland teachers union blasted Hogan’s move, saying it could “worsen summer brain drain,” particularly among students from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds.

Steele said studies bear out the fact that some students lose ground academically during the summer months.

“So as we lengthen the summer and compress the school year, that’s something we need to be especially concerned about,” she added.

The Maryland Association of Boards of Education also opposes Hogan’s order, saying it will require schools to not only rethink their calendars but also throw out and rewrite teacher and employee contracts.

“The time and money spent on these negotiations would be better spent on educating our 870,000 public school students,” the group said in statement.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan, Rick Massimo and Nick Iannelli contributed to this report. 

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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