Superintendent Mark Bedell promoted legislation Friday morning to the Anne Arundel County delegation to the General Assembly that would give school systems in Maryland more authority and flexibility over how their school calendars are designed.
Senate Bill 321, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Pam Beidle, was formally introduced to the General Assembly on Jan. 27. A hearing before the Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Feb. 22. The legislation is cross-filed in the House of Delegates. House Bill 510 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee at 1 p.m. on Feb.15.
Under current state law, school systems are required to conduct school operations for a minimum number of 180 days, with students beginning their school year in late August or early September and ending in mid-June, with a two-month break in the summer. State law also requires a minimum of 1,080 (elementary/middle school) and 1,170 (high school) “seat hours,” the time students are actively learning in the school building.
The revision Bedell and his leadership board have proposed would allow Anne Arundel County Public Schools and other Maryland school districts to meet these legislated minimum “seat hours” while removing the stipulation that school will operate 180 days of the calendar year. Students will still be required to complete the minimum 1,080 and 1,117 hours of instructional time, but the school system will have the authority to choose how and when those hours are completed throughout the traditional calendar year.
“This bill will not be sacrificing a single minute of student instruction,” said Bob Mosier, a spokesperson for the school system.
In the event of inclement weather or other scenarios that result in an unexpected school closure, the bill would allow school systems to only make up the six hours that students lost that day, Mosier said.
Hypothetically, a Maryland school system that wishes to move to a four-day now would need to extend the school year to meet the 180-day requirement instead of having the flexibility to build in longer school days, he said. Under the proposed legislation, a reduction in school hours because of inclement weather would simply force a school system to make up those hours, not necessarily also add a day to comply with state law.
Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat, said she didn’t hesitate when the school board approached her as chair of the Senate delegation.
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“Whatever Dr. Bedell and the board feel are potential solutions to close the achievement gap in the state is worth considering,” she said.
If the bill passes, it would allow school systems to explore options such as the trimester system in which students could attend school year-round with small intermittent breaks. Bedell said this system would benefit students by preventing learning regression that occurs over the two-and-half-month summer break but stressed this is only hypothetical.
“What I am trying to get people to understand is that the cookie-cutter approach is no longer relevant,” Bedell said. “Many of our school districts in the United States are obsolete. We’re outdated and we’re very rigid because we have to operate within these constraints [that], to me, contradict what the Maryland Blueprint is asking us to do,” he added, referring to the state’s $3.8 bill education reform plan.
In January 2022, Bedell advocated as superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools for flexible school hours, echoing some of the same statements that drove his community outreach plans in his Listening & Learning Tours throughout January.
“Who made this decision that high schools only can be open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for instruction?” Bedell said at Arundel High School’s Listening Tour. “Why can’t they be open from 8:30 in the morning until 8:30 at night? By the time the kids are in the 11th grade, we’re able to offer them a flex schedule that allows for them to access internships [and] externships. All of these things that Blueprint is telling us we have to do.”
By December 2022, Independence Public Schools voted to implement a four-day school week operating Tuesday through Friday, becoming the largest school district in the state of Missouri to adopt an innovative schedule.