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To start before or after Labor Day, that is the question for Harford schools

Harford County students have just a few days left before the bell rings next week, the third year in a row school will start after Labor Day.

Whether that post-Labor Day start continues next year remains to be seen.

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During this year’s session, the Democratic-led General Assembly passed legislation allowing local school districts to decide when their academic years should start. Hogan vetoed that bill, but was overridden 93-43, nullifying his 2016 executive order that public schools in Maryland start after Labor Day and end classes by June 15.

Harford school leaders determined the legislation, passed in March, came too late to adjust the calendar for the 2019-2020 school year, which begins Tuesday.

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Next year could be different and it’s up to the Harford County Board of Education to decide.

The calendar for the 2020-2021 school year doesn’t have to be approved until December, but the newly appointed school calendar committee will begin meeting in early September.

"My intention with the calendar committee is to have them discuss both options, a pre- and post-Labor Day start, to determine what they would like to recommend do the board,” Jillian Lader, chair of the calendar committee and manager of communications for Harford County Public Schools, said.

Students have to be in school 180 days, teachers for 190, and schools must be closed certain days by contract and in session certain other days for testing. What happens during the remainder of the year when school is in session is up to the local board of education.

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Neither of the two school board members on the calendar committee, Vice President Rachel Gauthier and member Patrice Ricciardi, have strong opinions either way on whether school starts before Labor Day or after, they said.

A proponent of year-round school, Gauthier said she can understand arguments for both sides.

A shorter summer break would help prevent “brain drain" and knowledge students are losing, sometimes referred to as the summer slide, she said. While the argument could be made that students can go to the library or travel during the summer, not all students have the same opportunities.

“Unfortunately, I know, someone is not going to be happy,” Gauthier said. “We’re never going to make all the families happy.”

A year-round guidance counselor in Baltimore County, Gauthier said if she had to choose for her personally, given her children’s ages and at what stages they are, she would like students to go back to class the week before Labor Day, possibly with a partial week “to ease back into the year.”

“There are so many pieces, we need to have everybody at the table to have the conversation,” Gauthier said.

Ricciardi, whose appointment to the board was effective July 1, said she doesn’t know enough yet to have an opinion.

“I’m so new to this, I want to go to the meeting and see what I hear," Ricciardi said. “There are a lot of components to hear, I want to hear both sides. I want to advocate for what makes sense — what matters is students are prepared and rested and ready.”

From a student perspective, they’re more concerned about the end of school than the beginning, said Christian Walker, the student representative on the school board and member of the calendar committee.

“Especially with the change in the start date, we start school after Labor Day and we’re still in school until June 20,” Walker said.

Hogan had mandated that school end by June 15 when starting after Labor Day, but that, too, has since be relaxed because of inclement weather days being made up.

“A lot of students think we have quite a few days off already built into the school calendar,” Walker said. “First we have to look at days off during the school year we could be in school. If there aren’t any, then perhaps we look at when we start.”

Walker, a senior at C. Milton Wright, said he realizes many of the days off are state-mandated, but sometimes students go four to five weeks without a full week of school — that’s why they’re in session until late June.

“Before any decision is made, I want to survey students and also the community about their opinion on the matter,” Walker said. “It’s not worth changing the start if the majority of the community is not supportive of that.”

This year’s calendar

After school starts Tuesday, students have off Monday, Sept. 30, for Rosh Hashana and Wednesday, Oct. 9, for Yom Kippur. The following week, schools are closed Friday, Oct. 18 for teacher conventions. Schools are closed to students Nov. 4 for professional development, then a week later are closed for the first time for Veterans Day on Monday, Nov. 11.

In considering this year’s calendar, previous school board members said wanted Nov. 11 to be a day off to honor veterans, not just a day school is closed.

Former board member Tom Fitzpatrick said during a calendar discussion last year that many veterans live in Harford and that Aberdeen Proving Ground is the county’s largest local employer — APG has more than 20,000 soldiers, civilian Department of Defense workers and contractors.

Other school holidays and closings include Nov. 28 and 29 for Thanksgiving; Dec. 23 to Jan. 1 for winter break; Jan. 20 for Martin Luther King, Feb. 17 for Presidents Day; April 10 and 13 for spring break; April 28 for primary elections; and May 25 for Memorial Day.

If no inclement weather days are used, students will finish the year Tuesday, June 9; potential inclement weather make-up days include June 10, 11 and 12 and June 15 to 19.

The calendar committee

The committee will meet for the first time in early September to discuss school start and ends dates and the days off in between, to have a proposed calendar to present to the school board in October, Lader said.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposal before it goes to the board in December for final approval — the calendar must, by school board policy, be approved eight months ahead of the next school year, she said.

In addition to Gauthier, Ricciardi and Walker, who is representing the Harford County Regional Association of Student Councils, the calendar committee includes more than 30 other individuals.

From the superintendent’s leadership team are: Jean Mantegna, assistant superintendent for human resources; Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent for operations; Renee Villareal and Michael O’Brien, executive directors of elementary and secondary school instruction and performance, respectively; Susan Brown, executive director of curriculum, instruction and assessment; Darlene Amos, administrative support coordinator; Phillip Snyder, supervisor of accountability; Paula Stanton, supervisor of equity and cultural proficiency; and Jacqueline Tarbert, coordinator of leadership and professional development.

Also from the school system are transportation representative Danielle Bedsaul; principals Alberta Porter, Darlington Elementary; Christopher Yancone, Riverside Elementary; James Johnson, Havre de Grace Middle and Bryan Pawlicki, North Harford High.

Harford County Parent Teacher Association representatives are Renee DeBiase, Harford County Council of PTA President; Kim Brayman, Joppatowne Elementary PTA; Shoshannah Harvey, Havre de Grace Middle PTA and Heather Johnson, Fallston High PTA.

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Union representatives include American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Deborah Tell; Association of Harford County Administrative, Technical & Supervisory Professionals Danielle Bedsaul; Association of Public School Administrators & Supervisors of Harford County Melissa McKay; Harford County Education Association Chrystie Crawford-Smick; and Harford County Educational Services Council Donna Woodfield.

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School Liaison Officer Stacie Umbarger represents Aberdeen Proving Ground; Diane Moore, HAR-CO Credit Union, represents the business community; Patrick Leist and Carrie Patrick of Open Door and O’bette Jamison and Lisa Moreno of Y of Central Maryland represent day care providers; and religious organizations are represented by Rabbi Kushi Schusterman of Harford Chabad, and Pastor Carol Taylor of Word of Faith International Outreach.

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