Gov. Larry Hogan issued a second executive order Tuesday that makes it difficult for school systems to avoid starting school after Labor Day by seeking a waiver.
The order comes after the state board was offering waivers from Hogan's mandate and as many local school officials protested, saying they wanted to retain control over their school calendars.
In his new order, Hogan said that only schools that are charters, low performing or at risk may apply for a waiver from the Maryland state school board, and only if they have an "innovative school schedule" that requires them to be open during the summer.
The order also said school districts may seek a waiver if they have been closed for bad weather for 10 days each in two of the last five school years.
"This was an effort to alleviate the concerns from the state board of education and local boards of education," said Douglas Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan. "There was confusion about the waiver process, concerns about time, and this was an effort" to address that.
In late August, Hogan declared that the state's public school children would enjoy a longer summer break starting next year, signing an executive order saying schools could not open before Labor Day and had to end by June 15.
Hogan said the longer summer recess would give families more time together, generate more revenue for the tourism industry and help keep students in the Baltimore region out of sweltering classrooms that lack air conditioning.
Although the order was popular among parents in polls, the mandate infuriated school officials, who said it was not good for students, particularly those whose families struggled to find enriching experiences during the summer months. In addition, some legislators and school officials argued that the governor was wresting control out of local school board hands.
Only Worcester County — the location of Ocean City — routinely opens after Labor Day.
But state education officials saw it differently.
"I think this new executive order sends the message that the governor is out of sync with the state board of education," said John R. Woolums, the director of governmental relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education. "I think one executive order intruding into education policy is unprecedented and two is doubly unprecedented."
Woolums said his group, which represents all the local boards of education in the state, passed a resolution last week opposing the intrusion of the governor's office on such matters.
"The governor is doubling down on irresponsible governance," said state Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Democrat who represents Baltimore.
"This is unprecedented in Maryland history," said Ferguson, who accused the governor of playing "petty politics."
After questions about the first order from several lawmakers, Maryland's Attorney General Brian E. Frosh issued a letter of advice in September that said Hogan may have exceeded his authority.
"I cannot say unequivocally that the Labor Day executive order exceeds the governor's authority, but I believe it is likely that a reviewing court, if presented with the issue, would conclude that it does," wrote Adam D. Snyder, a lawyer in the office of the attorney general.
In late September, the Maryland state school board said it would act "expeditiously" if local school boards wanted a waiver from the post Labor Day start. And one state board member whom Hogan had appointed wrote in a blog that he disagreed with the governor's mandate.
School districts needed little encouragement, and Montgomery County's school board agreed Monday to ask the state for a waiver so it could start before Labor Day.
Anne Arundel County's superintendent was going to ask his board to do the same. And Baltimore, Carroll and other county schools boards were considering two calendars for next year, one that started before Labor Day and the other after. Most boards vote in November and December on a calendar.
The debate has pitted tourism and business interests eager for more family time at Ocean City against school officials who see the local calendar as the domain of local school officials.
Andy Smarick, president of the state board, said Tuesday he could not comment because he had just gotten the order and hadn't read it. He said the board would review the new order.
"Instead of solving real problems with education in Maryland," Ferguson said, "the administration is launching an all-out attack on its own education appointees."