After a procedural flub last week during a vote to add three early-release days to the current school calendar, the Montgomery County Board of Education met Tuesday to revote on the measure and affirm the change.
The vote Tuesday was 6-1, with only board member Lynne Harris voting no. That’s the same vote breakdown as last week.
The board first voted last week to add three half-days — in January, March and May — to give teachers more time for planning work.
But amid a lengthy debate, including complaints that the process was rushed, and a series of competing amendments and multiple votes, “We made a procedural mistake,” Board President Brenda Wolff said Tuesday before the board reconsidered the measure. “Therefore, we are here today to take a vote again to correct the mistake.”
The school system proposed adding the half-days to allow teachers more planning time during the school year and to ease what have been described as crushing workloads faced by teachers. The school system, like many others around Maryland and across the country, has faced challenges transitioning back to in-person learning as the coronavirus pandemic stretches on.
But board members criticized the proposal amid concerns over the lack of public comment before the measure came before the board for a vote.
“I think it’s a lost opportunity when we do not provide adequate notice to the public about major system recommendations or proposals,” Harris said Tuesday before the revote.
Rather than adding three half-days throughout the year, Harris said, “I would like to see have seen us come forward with real proposals for boots-on-the-ground, approved, tested and recommended strategies to improve operations and workload issues in schools every day.”
Other calendar changes sought by Montgomery County Public Schools included making winter break and spring break systemwide closures, as well as making the new Juneteenth federal holiday a systemwide closure day.
Harris, who also questioned the budgetary impacts of the systemwide closures, sought an amendment that would split the resolution into two parts to be considered by the board separately: One measure relating to the half-days, the other to the systemwide closure days.
That amendment failed 5-2.
Board member Rebecca Smondrowski, who was also critical of the rushed process to approve the half-days, urged looking at longer-term solutions to staffing shortages and workloads greater input from the public before proposals are voted on.
“These are not easy decisions and that is why we need time to be able to process information, speak with our constituents, review where we feel we need to be, to sleep well at night and to feel that we’re doing the right thing for all,” she said.
Smondrowski ultimately voted for the final measure.
Board member Judy Docca spoke in favor of the proposal to turn three existing full days on the calendar into half-days.
She acknowledged the lack of a public comment period, but said, “This is an unusual year.”
She added, “We’re not trying to push people around, but we are trying to say that our teachers and our administrators and our other employees need a break so that they can refresh and do a better job with our students. Because, as everybody says, our students are the most important.”
Student member Hana O’Looney reiterated her concerns about the lack of communication with the public, but said she supported adding the half-days: “I have heard so much from such a wide, diverse range of both staff and students that this year has been excruciating. It has been difficult, going from almost zero to 100 very, very quickly.”
Regarding concerns that board members weren’t given enough notice of the proposed calendar changes, Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight said the school system began discussing the changes a few months ago.
“This year is different, again, for so many other reasons,” she said. “We opened school; we’ve learned about the challenges that have been facing all of our employees. And so we have to act in real time in some ways that are just different this year.”
The board briefly recessed to study Robert’s Rules of Order before the final vote.
Last month, the board voted to cancel classes the day before Thanksgiving citing substitute teacher shortages and low student attendance. Some parents criticized the sudden change.
In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, outgoing schools Superintendent Greg Arlotto sought to add three early dismissal days to the calendar in December, but the school board there assented only to one of them.