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Bishop: How starting school after Labor Day in Md. led to my kid's broken collarbone

Bishop: How starting school after Labor Day in Md. led to my kid's broken collarbone
Governor Larry Hogan visits Ocean City and signs an executive order requiring Maryland public schools to begin after Labor Day starting in 2017. (Caitlin Faw / Baltimore Sun)

Did I ever tell you about the time the governor broke my daughter’s collarbone?

That may be a slight exaggeration. It was more a joint effort by the governor, the comptroller and the summer camp planners at the Orokawa Y in Towson, which was, a manager eventually told me, uncharacteristically understaffed when my kid arrived in late August 2017. They weren’t typically in session then, I was told, and many counselors had left for college.

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You may recall that was the first year Maryland was required — by executive order and over educator objections — to delay the start of the public school year until after Labor Day, a long-held obsession of Comptroller Peter “Let Summer Be Summer” Franchot that was adopted and acted upon by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Spring break changes planned after Hogan's post-Labor Day school start plan

In announcing his new start-date mandate, which also required schools to conclude by June 15, Governor Hogan, from the boardwalk in Ocean City, declared that it would “help protect the traditional end of summer," apparently from the assault of education. He would later dismiss the concerns of critics — worsened summer learning loss, reduced access to free meals for low-income kids, tightened teacher schedules and so on — as “silly, trivial, stupid things.”

And so, in that final week of August two summers ago, thousands of children across Maryland — including my little peanut, who was days away from turning 5 and entering kindergarten — had an extra week to fill before the start of school.

Her regular summer camp had ended on its regular date, and, seeing as the governor didn’t also mandate an extra week of paid vacation for working parents of young children, my husband and I had to find supplemental care. We chose Y Camp, as it was one of the most affordable of very few available options.

(It seems the governor failed to also issue an executive order requiring more summer camps to stay open longer or to provide funding for: 1. parents to pay for care at locations willing to offer an extra session or 2. those vacations he imagined we’d all be taking in Ocean City. Or perhaps we were supposed to take out a loan, as billionaire Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross would have had furloughed federal workers do?)

Anyhoo, long story short, on Aug. 29, 2017 — the very day school started in our district the year before — my daughter was at camp on a rainy day, inside a gym, with too many other kids and not enough supervisors when she was accidentally drop-kicked by another girl demonstrating what I can only guess were some pretty awesome ninja moves.

Her substitute counselor, who was used to working with older kids, wasn’t there to see her collarbone get snapped, or to prevent it, because the woman had taken a group of young campers to the restroom, I was later told. Various other failures occurred immediately after, most of which were attributed by a Y representative to that aforementioned understaffing and related undertraining.

Now, I know Messrs. Hogan and Franchot meant no harm to my kid, or any kid, and it’s not like they were the actual drop-kickers (pause to imagine). But a lack of adequate care for a time period was a real consequence of their decision for a lot of families. That’s not silly, trivial or stupid.

And it’s not a matter that’s yet settled. The consequences continued into that school year when days were shaved off of spring break to make up for inclement weather closures, leading to absences by students and teachers who’d made irreversible plans for that period. And this school year, the President’s Day holiday is on the chopping block in Baltimore City to make up for a January snow day, and next up is again spring break. That’s too much uncertainty for families to grapple with.

The Maryland Senate is now considering bills that would return the power to set the school calendar to educators. At a Senate Committee hearing Wednesday, the mayor of Ocean City said such a move would cost his city; hotel room tax receipts are up 7 percent since the change, he said.

Yes, Ocean City would likely lose out on some revenue if school districts decide their needs are better met with an earlier start date or later end date. But perhaps that’s as it should be in a state that’s falling behind its own standards in education.

I don’t doubt that many families throughout the state had a lovely time in that extra week before school began. But is that time worth the hassle, if not hardship, so many others faced?

Tricia Bishop is The Sun's deputy editorial page editor. Her column runs every other Friday. Her email is tricia.bishop@baltsun.com; Twitter: @triciabishop.

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