Montgomery Co. school board to ask for school-year extension

WASHINGTON — Montgomery County’s school board has voted to ask Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to allow the school system to extend the 2018-2019 school calendar.

The vote came during Tuesday’s discussion of how to meet the state-mandated calendar requirements. Under a 2016 executive order, schools in Maryland must start after Labor Day and end by June 15.

The members of the school board say trying to squeeze 180 days into those dates is a challenge given the school system’s past practice of closing on the Jewish religious holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana and a weeklong spring break, as well as providing for professional days for teachers.

School board member Rebecca Smondrowski said, “I think the bottom line here is that the constraints that are placed on us are going to make things very challenging.”

Board member Patricia O’Neill agreed and added, “No matter what we come up with, there is going to be somebody who is unhappy with the calendar, I mean that’s for sure.” She suggested that the board draft a letter to Hogan requesting that the school system be given the flexibility to end on June 22 instead of June 15.

That suggestion was questioned by board member Jeanette Dixon, who doubted the request would make a difference. She noted the school board had appealed to the governor before and that “These letters have not been effective.” She added, “In fact, what we have done is piss him off.”

That comment prompted School Board President Michael Durso to ask his colleagues to choose their words more carefully: “Can I politely suggest that we are role models to our students and viewers and that maybe our colorful language on occasion be tempered?”

Dixon said instead of asking the state for an extension, the board should just “deal with it” and work within the current constraints.

The board voted 5 to 2 to draft the request for a June 22 closing date.

O’Neill says the board’s policy is to come up with its academic calendars by December of each year. The issue will come up at the board’s next all-day meeting on Nov. 14.

Amelia Chasse, Hogan’s deputy communications director, said the governor will look at any letter he receives from the school board, but added that “it is disingenuous for Montgomery County officials to threaten Jewish holidays and spring break when they can find time to close schools for one full and numerous partial teacher union service days.”

School board member Patricia O’Neill called that argument “bogus,” explaining that eight professional service days for teachers have been shifted so that they don’t fall during the academic year: They are scheduled before school opens for the year.

O’Neill said that half-days count as instructional days, so that even if, for example, Montgomery County converted all nine half-days in this year’s calendar to full days, they would not lead to an increase in instructional days. County school systems across the state also have to close for state-mandated holidays, such as President’s Day and Martin Luther King’s birthday.

“There are a limited number of options,” said O’Neill, who added that next year, schools will have to close for Election Day, since many are used as polling places, and that June 15, 2019, falls on a Saturday, requiring schools to close by June 14.

In an emailed statement to WTOP, Chasse wrote, “Most jurisdictions have managed to adopt a common-sense calendar that prioritizes what students and families want, and Montgomery County could easily do the same.”

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