Montgomery County Public Schools will add three early-release days to the current school year after a contentious vote by the board of education Thursday.
The school system proposed adding the half-days on Wednesday, Jan. 12; Thursday, March 24 and Wednesday, May 18 to allow time for staff work during the school year. The school system has cited challenges faced by staff and students alike returning to the classroom amid the coronavirus pandemic.
It took several attempts to get the five votes needed, but the county Board of Education eventually approved adding the half-days.
One of the critiques against adding the half-days was concern about learning loss.
Board member Rebecca Smondrowski said she was concerned about mitigating learning disruption and keeping students as much as possible.
“I’m concerned about the amount of learning loss that we’ve already suffered and the fact that it’s just more time out of school,” she said.
Smondrowski also mentioned that there was a lack of communication and parent feedback.
“I think for me, also, a big part of it is the communication part,” she said. “And the fact that we haven’t had enough opportunity to really work through this, or discuss it with the public, or allow the public to have comments.”
Interim Superintendent Monifa McKnight said addressing staffing needs against learning loss is not necessarily either-or, and the purpose of the half days is to provide staff critical time to prepare.
“I do not believe that if we allow time to invest in the staff, then we’re not then addressing a commitment to learning disruption,” McKnight said, adding that the school system’s proposal was balanced.
Board President Brenda Wolff supported the half-days, saying she thinks “this provides a relief for both” students and teachers.
Student board member Hana O’Looney supports the half-days, saying that a little time off can often “strengthen the utilization of the time we do have when we’re in school.” But she echoed concerns about the lack of communication and transparency.
“I, too, want to express my concern and frustration with the fact that we weren’t able to engage with the public on this decision and just give some advance notice,” O’Looney said.
Another concern over the half-days was the impact on parents and their work.
“Many of these people, for the past 21 months have been front lining it, whether they work in the ER at Holy Cross, or the check line at the Giant, they’ve been front facing for 21 months, and this can be a burden on them, especially without very much notice,” board member Lynne Harris said.
Smondrowski initially voted against the measure but switched at the end, but not before going on record to say that it was unacceptable that they were given materials of this “consequence and of this importance less than 24 hours” before the vote.
The final vote on changing the 2021-2022 calendar was 6-1. Harris was the sole “no” vote.
The other, less controversial changes to the current school calendar approved by the board were to make the winter break and spring break systemwide closures, and to make the new federal holiday of Juneteenth also a systemwide closure.
The board delayed a vote on the 2022-2023 calendar, initially planned for Thursday, until next month.
Board appoints new member
In addition, the board named a new member to fill the vacancy created by the death of the board’s former longest-serving member.
Members voted unanimously to appoint Scott Joftus, an education consultant, to the District 3 seat following interviews with eight finalists this week.
Joftus is the co-founder and president of FourPoint Education Partners, a consulting firm specializing in school and district improvement, strategic planning and leadership development. He is also an adjunct professor in education policy, program evaluation and leadership at The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development. Joftus has a doctorate in education from GWU.
A swearing-in ceremony is scheduled for Dec. 14 at Carver Educational Services Center in Rockville.
Patricia O’Neill, the board’s longest-serving member, represented District 3 on the board since 1998 and was serving her sixth four-year term when she died in September.
WTOP’s Abigail Constantino contributed to this report.