The Baltimore County school board failed to approve a school calendar for the 2019-20 school year this week after several members voted against it, saying they wanted more time to see whether the school day would be lengthened by 15 minutes.
The county is in negotiations with its teachers to lengthen the school day to comply with state regulations that require students to be in school for 180 days and at least 1,170 hours.
The school system meets the 180-day requirement, but not the number of hours for high school students.
Board member Kathleen Causey said she wanted to see whether adding more hours would mean that the school calendar could be adjusted to give students more days off during the year, particularly for a longer spring break.
But other members argued the calendar could be approved and later adjusted. Interim school Superintendent Verletta White said she would propose adding snow days and professional development days for teachers if the calendar is changed.
The calendar failed to get approval after four members voted against it and five in favor. Seven votes were needed. Two members of the 12-member board were absent.
Since Gov. Larry Hogan dictated in 2016 that schools open after Labor Day and close by June 15, school systems have shrunk their spring breaks and eliminated some teacher training days.
Baltimore County, which has traditionally closed to give students and teachers off for two Jewish holidays each year, proposed opening schools for the High Holy Days in 2018, but reversed course after a backlash.
The proposed calendar for next school year does close schools for Rosh Hashana (Sept. 30) and Yom Kippur (Oct. 9). However, teachers would be expected to attend professional development on those days. Jewish teachers would be allowed to take the day off.
“The way they are handling the Jewish holidays isn’t ideal, but I understand it and appreciate the difficult position they are in,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.
The Jewish community has argued that schools would experience a high student and teacher absentee rate if they remained open on the High Holy Days.
“They have addressed the operational issues,” Libit said. “You don’t have the possibility of mass student absences.”
Libit said school officials assured him that the professional development days would not include material that is so important for them to learn that it would be impossible for Jewish teachers to catch up. In addition, athletic events will not be held on those two days.
The school system does not ask students for their religious affiliation, and therefore doesn’t know how many students of each faith attend county schools.
Schools cannot legally close for a religious holiday unless they believe the school system would have difficulty operating efficiently because of absences.
The proposed new calendar does allow for a couple more days of spring break.