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While the majority of Harford residents who have commented on the proposed calendar for the 2020-2021 school year prefer a pre-Labor Day start, many are also concerned about professional development days, Veterans Day, spring break and religious holidays.

As of last Friday — approximately midway through the 60-day public comment period — nearly 500 comments had been submitted online to the school system about the calendar, which the Harford County Board of Education is set to vote on Dec. 16.

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That’s almost 10 times as many comments as the school system received, 55, during the entire 60-day comment period on the 2019-2020 calendar, Jillian Lader, manager of communications for the school system and chair of the calendar committee, said.

“We believe the number of responses illustrates an interest in the school calendar and we are pleased at the level of participation we continue to see in this process," she said.

The proposed 2020-2021 calendar starts classes Tuesday, Sept. 1, six days before Labor Day. Classes would end June 9; if all seven inclement weather days are used, the last day would be June 18. Should the school board consider a post-Labor Day start, classes could go as late as June 24 if it uses all seven weather days.

Spring break for students would go from April 2 to April 6; teachers would report for a professional development day April 6.

The comments have been sent to board members weekly, and at Monday’s school board meeting, Lader will present members with evaluations of the input that has been received so far.

Public comment on the proposed calendar will remain open through Dec. 13 and can be submitted on the school system’s website, www.hcps.org.

When developing the calendar this year, rather than present a recommended calendar to the committee for approval to pass along to the board, Lader provided a calendar filled in with official holidays that are part of negotiated agreements as well as closures determined by the school board — Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the state teacher’s convention, Veterans Day and Easter Monday — and let the committee determine all the other days, including the start and end dates and professional development days.

School start

In an unofficial tally of the comments submitted, about 300 respondents favor starting school before Labor Day, while about 135 would rather go back after Labor Day next year.

“I am completely supportive of starting school before Labor Day. The earlier the better. Students are ready to learn in August and are definitely winding down the year as soon as June hits. The later we go in June the less students actually learn,” one commenter said.

Many of the respondents, however, hedged their comments — they support a pre-Labor Day start next year because Labor Day is the latest it can be, Sept. 7. If Labor Day is earlier, some favor after Labor Day.

“Given that Labor Day is later in September, I would like to have school start before the holiday so schools can end by middle of June. Once Labor Day is back to being earlier in September, I would favor an after Labor Day start," one person said.

Some suggested a varying start to the school year, while others want it to remain the same each year, for scheduling purposes.

Some prefer the post-Labor day start because of child care and vacations, like the person who said: “Many summer camps don’t kick off until the end of June and go through the end of August and that week or 2 allows for a proper family vacation for us working parents. No sense in sending kids in just to turn around with multiple school closings. A pre-Labor Day start will leave many families scrambling for child care through most of June.”

Many in the agricultural community prefer the after Labor Day start because it allows student to participate in the Maryland State Fair without having to miss school.

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“I wish the Ag community still mattered to those in charge with this Board. There are so many Harford County kids who participate with the State Fair, with both 4H and FFA. They are learning valuable lessons and having experiences that cannot be duplicated. It is too difficult to miss school at the beginning of the year in order to still participate with the State Fair when school has already begun... I have four children in the school system now. Next year only three, and those three will all be at the State Fair... We learn by doing, and these kids learn valuable life skills with each Fair and event they participate with. Please don’t take away that opportunity. Keep the start of school until after Labor Day."

Professional development

The calendar as it’s proposed includes 10 professional development days for teachers, which bring their school days to 190.

The proposed calendar for next year includes four teacher development days before the start of school for students, two after students are finished for the year and the four scattered throughout the year, on Oct. 16, Nov. 2, March 5 and April 5.

This year, seven of those professional days were held before classes started and two will be after the year ends. The other was Nov. 4, for elementary school parent-teacher conferences.

Should next school year start after Labor Day, professional development days before and after students are in session would be a week later.

Comments have been mixed regarding those days off. Many teachers commented, with opinions split on having so many or so few professional days before the school year starts.

Some say it allows them to get their classrooms ready and prepare their curriculum for the year, especially if they are teaching new grade levels or subjects. Others, however, say using them all at the beginning or end of the year leaves no time during the school year to do any planning at all.

Parents argued teacher development scattered throughout the year make it difficult to find child care, while others, including some teachers, like to see a day off school here and there to give students a break when there might not otherwise be one.

Religious holidays

The years past, school was closed for religious holidays such as Rosh Hoshanah, Yom Kippur and Easter Monday.

The 2020-2021 calendar includes closure for Yom Kippur on Sept. 28, but not Rosh Hashanah, which starts at sundown on a Friday, Sept. 18.

In comments received by the school system, some people wanted to do eliminate those days off, while others would like to see Muslim holidays added.

Some submitting comments said the Jewish population in Harford schools is not particular high, so schools should remain open and students who do take off be granted an excused absence.

Others wanted the Muslim holiday Eid, which falls on May 13 in 2021, to be a day off.

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“As a community in Harford County, we see that you have taken the initiative to diversify and be inclusive of various minorities. [May 13] is one day out of the school year for many students and their families to spend together,” one person wrote.

Some would like to see a week-long spring break, rather than the traditional four-day weekend, which in the proposed calendar was extended to five days with a professional development day on Tuesday, the day after Easter Monday.

Veterans Day

This year was the first time students have been off for Veterans Day, Nov. 11, a decision made last fall by the previous school board. Member said they hoped students, families and school system staff would spend the day performing community service or learning more about veterans.

The day off remained in the proposed 2020-2021 calendar, but many people have asked that it be an in-school day with lessons focused on veterans and what they have done for the country.

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