The Baltimore County public school board on Tuesday approved the 2022-23 academic calendar, which includes a pre-Labor Day start date, adds Juneteenth as a holiday, and designates three professional development days to coincide with religious and cultural celebrations.
The 12-person board voted 11-1 to approve a calendar that recognizes Diwali in October, the Lunar New Year in January and Eid al-Fitr in April as professional development days, when students are off but employees must report. The calendar also acknowledges Eid al-Adha on June 29, though the holiday falls after the conclusion of the school year. The system previously has scheduled professional development days to coincide with other religious holidays.
Board members cited an increasingly diverse school system and a need for cultural competency as reasons for adding the occasions to the calendar. Russell Kuehn voted against approving the schedule, citing concerns with the pre-Labor Day start date. Kuehn said he favored a calendar that recognized the religious holidays.
The Baltimore County school board voted last year in favor of a pre-Labor Day start. Sixteen Maryland school systems this year welcomed students back ahead of Labor Day, and eight began after the holiday, according to Baltimore County school staff.
School administrators told school board members they had received emails in recent weeks from teachers expressing support for a pre-Labor Day start date.
Earlier this month, board member Kathleen Causey pushed her counterparts to call for a formal polling of stakeholders concerning pre- and post-Labor Day start dates. Baltimore County school staff were charged by the board with conducting the poll and reporting their findings to the board in March.
Board members initially delayed making a final decision on the schedule, which must be adopted by November, to allow staff time to draft a new calendar that recognized the holidays and cultural celebrations.
The academic year calendar for Baltimore County’s 111,000 students must observe 20 state-mandated holidays, some of which coincide with religious holidays, including Christmas and Easter, and meet state requirements for the number of days and contact hours students spend in school. Schools must educate children for 180 days, with a minimum of 1,170 hours for high schoolers and 1,080 hours for elementary and middle schoolers.
By adding the professional development days and Juneteenth to the calendar, the school system risked crossing over the maximum number of working days set at 191 in bargaining agreements with the unions. And school system staff estimated the price of negotiating for and paying educators for an additional day of work could cost about $8.9 million.
The school board voted instead to balance the surplus of working days by closing schools for students and staff Oct. 21 to coincide with a Maryland State Education Association conference day. Causey abstained from that vote.
Board members spoke enthusiastically about providing Baltimore County’s increasingly diverse student body with cultural and religious recognition. Moalie Jose said she grew up celebrating Diwali and felt moved by its inclusion on the new calendar.
Even as board members enthusiastically endorsed the new scheduling changes, several noted concerns that adding more days off could stretch the school year into summer.
The last day of school under the approved schedule will fall between June 13 and June 21 depending on weather.