As Gov. Larry Hogan is defending his stance last week to keep Maryland schools closed before Labor Day, a Howard County delegate is proposing a bill to allow local school boards to have local control over school system calendars.
Del. Eric Ebersole, a Democrat who represents District 12 including Elkridge and Columbia, is sponsoring a bill in Annapolis to allow all county school boards in Maryland to have control over determining their school system’s start and end dates and be able to extend a school year without seeking approval from the state Board of Education.
The state Senate also has a bill to return calendar control to local school boards. On Thursday a preliminary vote, 32-14, was taken in favor of the measure.
In 2016, Hogan issued an executive order requiring an all public schools in Maryland to open after Labor Day and end by June 15. State law also requires at least 180 instructional school days.
“What the governor has done with this executive order is created a conundrum … his executive order bookends start and end dates that made it impossible to reach the 180 days due to bad weather or other things,” Ebersole said.
Ebersole, a former Howard County high school math teacher, said that while the first days of school are the most exciting, they also show learning gaps that some students may have acquired over the summer from forgetting material. Ebersole said that at the beginning of each school year, he often had to do some remedial work with students to refresh their memories and skills before moving on to new topics.
Standing firm in that he will not undo his executive order, Hogan said last week that he is drafting legislation that would offer “genuine local control” by requiring voters to approve any pre-Labor Day start. The governor predicted that lawmakers’ actions to reverse his order will fail.
“School after Labor Day will remain the law in this state, as nearly everyone has been pushing for for many, many years. Regardless of what action the legislature attempts to take, they will fail,” Hogan said.
Hogan has said the reasoning for pushing back a school start is for local tourism, including Ocean City, to have an extra week of summer to earn revenue.
“What he doesn't acknowledge is the potential influence to our education, I feel like the consideration of this bill has been strictly economical,” Ebersole said.
Ebersole isn’t proposing that every school district should begin after Labor Day. He noted that Worcester County, where Ocean City is located, has been starting after Labor Day for years.
“My theme is local control,” Ebersole said. “They [school board members] are closer to the community needs than someone who is in the governor's mansion.”
Howard County Superintendent Michael Martirano said he supports local control over calendars “because the needs of each community is unique.”
"It's important to have the flexibility to align our calendar to the needs of our staff and students while respecting the various cultural and religious needs of our community,” Martirano said in a statement Thursday.
Martirano met with delegation members last week in Annapolis and reiterated his support for local control, according to county schools spokesman Brian Bassett.
The school board also strongly endorses local control over the school calendar, Bassett said.
Bassett said the school system is “afforded very little opportunity to meet the needs of our unique community,” after considering the required 180 days, mandated holidays, accounting for inclement weather days and negotiated professional development days and work days for staff.
In November, the school board approved Howard’s 2019-2020 calendar. All 77 schools will open after Labor Day on Sept. 3, 2019, and end June 15, 2020.
Bassett said the school system receives “little formal feedback” from parents about the start of school after Labor Day since there is no flexibility with the executive order. Parents and families can provide input and options for consideration during the annual calendar development process, Bassett added.
“Of course, that doesn't mean that there isn't great interest by parents,” Bassett said in an email.
Del. Courtney Watson, a Democrat representing District 9B including Ellicott City, filed a Howard specific bill that was passed by the delegation with a straw vote last month. The bill will be heard at a public hearing on Feb. 20 and after the delegation will take an official vote.
Ebersole said if his bill has success, Watson’s could be pulled because his bill would cover all of Maryland — including Howard. The statewide bill is scheduled for a hearing Thursday.
With reporting from Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood and Luke Broadwater.