The Baltimore County school board adopted a calendar for the next school year that gives students two days off for spring break and preserves one Jewish holy day.
Under Gov. Larry Hogan's new mandate requiring all public schools in the state to start the school year after Labor Day, board members approved a calendar that begins school on Sept. 5 and ends on June 15. Teachers will have one professional development day on October 20.
In addition, the school system will close for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana in late September. Muslims lobbied for more than a decade to get a teacher training day placed on their Eid al-Adha, Islam's holiest festival day, so that school would be closed that day. The new calendar no longer provides for that option because it has cut the teacher professional development day in September.
All other days off during the year are required under Maryland regulations and cannot be changed by local school leaders. Spring break will be March 30th through April 2nd in 2018.
The school system had proposed two calendar options. The one that was not chosen would have kept schools open on Rosh Hashanah. The calendar adopted observes Rosh Hashanah and also provides more days for bad weather.
During the comment period at the Wednesday school board meeting, Muslim, Jewish and Asian parents lobbied for school to be closed on their holidays.
The Baltimore Jewish Council's executive director, Howard Libit, said the idea had been floated to keep schools open on Rosh Hashanah as a way to determine whether enough Jewish students and teachers would stay home to celebrate. The school system cannot close to celebrate religious holidays unless it can prove that staying open would cause a disruption in schools because of high absenteeism among students and teachers.
"A pilot of keeping the schools open on a Jewish holiday to see how many students stay home and how many teachers are absent is about keeping schools open to see how little learning happens in a day. Why would we do that?" Libit asked. He said it is clear that there are thousands of Jewish teachers and students, enough to cause a disruption.
Mohammed Jameel, a leader in the Muslim community presented the board with a petition signed by 900 Muslims in southwest Baltimore County asking that schools close for the Muslim holy day.
Asian parents asked that schools be closed for the Lunar holiday.
Several members of the school board voted against the option that passed. Others said they wished they had had other options and suggested they might lobby for state legislation that gets rid of certain holidays for which schools are required to close. They suggested they might target Easter Monday and Presidents Day.
Hogan's administration has said opening school after Labor Day will provide families with more time together, be good for Ocean City businesses, and keep some students out of schools that lack air-conditioning. The mandate has been widely opposed by school boards and superintendents.