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Editorial: Parents deserve say in how school system uses new scheduling power

Given that Carroll County has twice voted overwhelmingly for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, residents are likely none too happy that the Democrat-controlled Maryland General Assembly voted Friday to override Hogan’s veto of a bill that will allow public schools to begin classes before Labor Day.

So the governor’s 2016 executive order mandating a post-Labor Day start and June 15 finish for school calendars lasted only two school years. Local school boards will again have the decision-making authority to decide when to begin each year, when to end, and exactly how to finagle 180 school days in-between.

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The argument for the later start was mostly about the economic boon created by the extra week of summer vacation, but there were positives from a parental perspective. Labor Day weekend, and, in fact, the entire week leading up to Labor Day, is a traditional time for families to spend together vacationing. And it never seemed right to start a new school year and immediately take a three-day weekend.

On the other hand, studies show that the so-called brain drain or summer slide is real in that students forget more of what they learned the previous school year every week they are off from school during the summer. Plus, just as some families take advantage of Labor Day to schedule a vacation, others would do the same if Carroll returned to a true spring break. (Of course, one family’s opportunity for a sojourn to Florida is another’s hardship of finding childcare for a random week in April.)

Carroll County Public Schools had already approved its calendar for 2019-20 and will not revisit it, Superintendent Steve Lockard said. So Carroll families will have one more year of the positives and negatives created by the late start.

Next year, school starts on Sept. 3. Off days will be Sept. 30 for Rosh Hashanah, Oct. 9 for Yom Kippur, Oct. 18 for professional meetings, Nov. 28-29 for Thanksgiving, Dec. 23-Jan. 1 for Christmas/winter break, Jan. 20 for Martin Luther King Day, Jan. 29 for the end of the semester, Feb. 17 for Presidents Day, April 10 for Good Friday, April 13 for Easter Monday, April 28 for Primary Election Day and May 25 for Memorial Day with a scheduled last day of school on Friday, June 12. (That schedule includes three built-in inclement weather days. If there are more than four snow days in 2019-20, the school year would likely go past the no-longer-mandated June 15 stop date, just as it is going to this year.)

Obviously, in future years, starting a week earlier would give CCPS more flexibility with scheduling. Carroll could go back to a real spring break, giving students and staff 10 consecutive days off (six weekdays plus four weekend days). Or a few more professional development days could be added. Or some extra holidays could be taken. Or school could simply end a week earlier. And, of course, nothing in the veto override forces CCPS to start the school year before Labor Day.

A few years ago, when it was unclear whether Hogan’s executive order would survive a legal challenge, Carroll’s school system solicited feedback to figure out what parents wanted. Given that it will be many months before the 2020-21 calendar needs to be unveiled, we would expect CCPS to get as much feedback as possible from all stakeholders, surveying parents and staff as well as asking for public comment.

Local school systems once again have the power to create calendars however they choose. The best way for CCPS to use it is by empowering those who are most affected to have a significant say in future calendars.

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