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Harford parents, students, teachers leader weigh in on post-Labor Day school start

Harford parents, students, teachers leader weigh in on post-Labor Day school start
Danietta Joejoe, left, of Abingdon, and Jordan Burnette, of Edgewood, walk through Harford Mall in Bel Air Tuesday. The Harford Community College students and Edgewood High School graduates say they favor a post-Labor Day start for school. (DAVID ANDERSON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

Edgewood resident Theresa Alfred favors starting schools after Labor Day, despite the challenges facing her and other parents who must pay for an extra week of day care for their children's extended summer vacation.

"It cost you money, definitely," Alfred acknowledged while at Harford Mall in Bel Air Tuesday afternoon with her 3-year-old daughter.

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Despite the extra cost, Alfred is still in favor of going back after Labor Day, instead of starting school in late August.

"That's what I'm used to," Alfred, whose older children are in college, said of a post-Labor Day start. "I like that, it's much better."

Gov. Larry Hogan signed an executive order Aug. 31 decreeing that school will start after Labor Day next year, and it must end by June 15. Maryland's public school students must be in school for 180 days each year. Individual school systems can ask for a waiver of the new order and establish their own start and end dates.

This academic year started Aug. 25 for Harford County Public Schools students. Schools were closed Monday for Labor Day, after students had already spent seven days in the classroom.

Alfred noted families must plan their vacations around the school calendar, meaning they must be back home before the end of August.

"It's actually the official end of summer," she said of Labor Day. "It gives you more [time] to prepare for the winter."

Ryan Burbey, president of the Harford County Education Association, the local teachers' union, said students might not be in school for all 180 days if schools must close because of a hurricane in the fall and later in the winter for heavy snows, if they have rigid start and end dates for the school year.

He said it "is a real concern with all the testing that's going on – we can't afford to lose any instructional time."

"What's going to happen to instructional time that's already being strained by both locally-mandated testing and state-mandated testing, which isn't going to go away?" Burbey continued. His union is part of the larger Maryland State Education Association, whose leaders have slammed Hogan over the post-Labor Day start mandate and vow to press the legislature to overturn it next winter.

Alfred described Harford school officials as being too quick to close school at the threat of severe weather, which puts a burden on parents who must take off work when their children have to remain home unexpectedly.

"The slightest snow that falls, they're ready to close, which is crazy," she said.

Last school year, Harford schools were closed eight times for inclement weather, including a full week in January when Winter Storm Jonas dropped more than 30 inches of snow on the county. Some of those missed days from Jonas were later waived by the state superintendent, and classes for the year ended June 15. One scheduled spring break day for students was missed.

In the 2014-15 school year, Harford schools lost 10 days. Waiver requests were not granted, so in addition to losing two scheduled spring break days, classes for the year did not end until June 19.

"What makes me mad is, when it's time to get vacation, they take away the vacation and give the kids two or three days more in school," Angelica Carey, of Aberdeen, said.

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She was shopping at Harford Mall Monday with her 18-year-old daughter, Oriana, who graduated from Aberdeen High School in 2015 and is starting her second semester at Harford Community College.

Carey noted her husband is retired from the Army, and their family lived in Germany for six years when he was stationed there.

"The snow is to here," she said, placing her hand above her knees, "and I never see them cancel school for any reason."

Oriana Carey said the late-August start of the fall semester at HCC did not bother her. Classes started Aug. 29, and the campus was closed for Labor Day.

She said Labor Day, during high school and college, "was a day off to be with your family and have some fun."

Two other HCC students, Jordan Burnette, 19, of Edgewood, and Danietta Joejoe, 19, of Abingdon, favor a post-Labor Day start for high schools, and they suggested the college do the same thing. Both graduated from Edgewood High School in 2015.

  • Education

Burnette noted the school system would have to deal with one less holiday.

"You could just get rid of that holiday all together and just give [students] that time off," he said.

Burnette and Joejoe also noted college students could take advantage of financial aid that kicks in after Labor Day.

"I'm stuck paying for my books out of pocket, and I don't have $500, $600 falling out of my pockets," Joejoe said.

Burbey, of the teachers union, stressed the financial burden parents face with having to go back to school after Labor Day, such as additional costs of day care and the challenge of getting free and reduced-price meals for their children when school is not in session.

He said the new schedule is "the law of the land," however, and the leaders of each school district must design a calendar that meets the needs of low-income parents, as well as teachers who need enough professional development days to go through training, set up their classrooms at the beginning of the year and take them down at the end of the year, plus get in time for standardized testing and the instruction needed to prepare students.

"You make the calendar work and you move on from there, and you create the supports necessary so the calendar will work for all the stakeholders," he said.

Burbey also suggested school officials review how often students are tested "so we're certain the kids are getting the most important part of school, which is instruction."

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