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Howard County schools will start before Labor Day for 2021-22 academic year

Howard County students will start a week before Labor Day next school year.

The Howard County Board of Education unanimously approved the school system’s proposed 2021-22 academic calendar during its meeting Thursday, and the first day of school will be Aug. 30.

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The last day of school is planned for June 14, 2022, with five possible snow days and an absolute last day of June 21, 2022.

Howard County students have returned to school the day after Labor Day in each of the past four academic years. The last time the district’s students started before Labor Day was the 2016-17 school year when the first day of school was a week before the September holiday.

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Students were supposed to begin two weeks before Labor Day this school year, but the Board of Education voted over the summer to push back the start of the school year to Sept. 8 to give the district more time to prepare for virtual learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. The school system will remain in virtual learning through at least mid-April.

Board member Antonia Barkley Watts asked Thursday why the school system doesn’t plan calendars two years in advance.

“I feel like it would give parents and families the ability to plan camps and vacations and all that stuff a little better if they had that information earlier,” Watts said.

Ron Morris, the performance director for area 3 schools, said it is “possible” for the school system to plan that way, but said it could lead to more calendar modifications like the one made this year.

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“Something to consider is that over the last couple of years we’ve had to make modifications to our calendar even with us planning it one year ahead,” Morris said.

Before the pandemic, school start times were a consistent topic of conversation at both the state and county level in recent years. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued multiple executive orders in 2016 that barred school systems across the state from starting school before Labor Day, sparking a debate from some school leaders and the governor.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center in 2019, about 77% of school districts across the country begin school before Labor Day.

Multiple district leaders said Hogan’s restrictions of a post-Labor Day start and a June 14 finish puts constraints on them in making room for religious holidays, professional development days and snow days. Hogan, however, believes starting school after Labor Day is popular among Marylanders, boosts tourism in Ocean City and prevents children from being in classrooms without air conditioning during hot days in August.

In March 2019, the Maryland General Assembly voted to undo Hogan’s executive order. Hogan then vetoed that bill, but the legislature overrode his veto and ultimately gave the scheduling decisions back to school system leaders.

The approved calendar for Howard includes 180 school days, 193 work days for teachers, 22 days off for holidays or breaks, five days off for teacher professional development, seven half days, three additional half days for only high school students and two additional half days for only elementary school students.

Fall sports practice will begin Aug. 11, and the first day for staff will be Aug. 19. Winter break will be from Dec. 23 through Jan. 2, and spring break is April 9 to 18.

Also during the meeting:

  • Howard County school system Superintendent Michael Martirano opened the meeting by addressing the incident that occurred at the Board of Education building Wednesday night. “An unknown suspect vandalized the front doors of the Department of Education [central office] building,” he said. Police are investigating the incident as a “commercial burglary.”
  • The board also unanimously approved a $250,000 grant from the Horizon Foundation to hire an additional social worker. “I think having social workers is something we definitely need to do,” said board member Christina Delmont-Small. “My concern is, however, how it is being funded. I so much appreciate our partnership with the Horizon Foundation, but the concern I’m having is when the funding goes away, then how do we absorb that cost within the operating budget?”
  • Construction projects to replace the heating, ventilation and air conditioning units at three Howard County schools are on track to finish this month. Burleigh Manor Middle, Mount View Middle and Pointers Run Elementary will all have new HVAC systems, with the projects costing between $900,000 and $1.3 million per project.
  • Sarah Fishkind, director of policy for the youth collective HoCo For Justice, spoke during public forum in support of removing school resource officers from the county’s middle and high schools when students return to school buildings. In September, the board narrowly voted down a motion to remove SROs. The school system then determined a timeline with multiple board discussions, focus groups, a town hall and a projected vote date of Jan. 21. However, the board, which includes three new members who were elected in November and sworn in December, has not yet discussed the contentious topic.
  • Martirano also announced that Jonathan Dupski has been promoted to assistant principal at Mt. Hebron High School. Dupski was a leadership intern at Mt. Hebron and, before that, was a math teacher at Atholton.

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