Maryland school systems have newfound flexibility when it comes to when they can start the academic year, but most local districts don’t plan to take advantage of that right away.
The Maryland General Assembly voted Friday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that will allow public schools to begin classes before Labor Day. It undoes Hogan’s 2016 executive order mandating the later start, and returns the decision-making authority to local school boards, who have been clamoring to have that power reinstated.
For several school districts in Central Maryland, Friday’s vote comes too late for them to make immediate use of their renewed flexibility. It remains unclear how the decision will play out in future school years.
Many districts said the restrictions originally imposed by Hogan — a post-Labor Day start and a June 15 finish — made it difficult for them to squeeze in religious holidays, teacher workdays and unexpected snow days. Some had to make last-minute trims to spring break to accommodate both the executive order and laws requiring 180 days of classes. Parents and educators grew frustrated with a lack of flexibility to tailor their calendars to the needs of their districts.
“This is no longer a viable option,” said Del. Anne Healey, a Prince George’s County Democrat. “It’s made things very difficult.”
But Hogan, a Republican, has remained adamant that requiring schools start after Labor Day was among his most popular decisions. The move was seen as a way to boost tourism in Ocean City and keep some children out of classrooms without air conditioning during some of the year’s hottest days.
Baltimore County’s 2019-20 schedule already has been approved by the board and includes a start date after Labor Day, said district spokesman Brandon Oland. In Carroll County, Superintendent Steve Lockard also does not plan to change the calendar for the 2019-20 school year.
Harford County school board president Joseph Voskuhl does not plan to reintroduce the 2019-2020 school calendar to the board's agenda, either.
"It was already voted on and approved by the Board of Education," said school system spokeswoman Jillian Lader. "We understand that people use that information to set their personal and family calendars and do not have plans to alter it at this time."
Public school officials in Anne Arundel County are seeking input into potential changes to next year’s calendar. While the 2019-2020 calendar already has been approved with a start date of Sept. 3, the district launched an online survey to gauge the community’s preferences.
The survey asks for people’s opinions on extending the last day of classes to June 19, adding in more inclement weather days, restoring a full week for Spring Break and closing for a Jewish high holiday.
Howard County schools spokesman Brian Bassett said the system is “evaluating the impact of any changes for the next school year and will provide a recommendation to the Board in early April.” The district is “pleased that we will now have the ability to shape future calendars based on the needs of our students, staff and community,” he said.
Baltimore City schools officials also are reviewing next year’s calendar “to determine whether adjustments could benefit students and staff,” said spokeswoman Anne Fullerton.
“While the removal of the requirement to start school after Labor Day will be helpful in giving us more flexibility,” she said, “we have not yet determined if we will recommend a change.”
The Senate approved the veto override Thursday. Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat, termed the governor’s order a “fiat written in stone” that was more focused on helping tourism than students.
In a letter sent to legislative leadership this week, Hogan said he vetoed the bill because it “runs directly counter to an action favored by the vast majority of Marylanders.”
“This unfortunate legislation unravels years of bipartisan work and study by seeking to reverse the post-Labor Day start for public schools,” Hogan wrote.
Hogan’s executive order picked up on an issue championed by State Comptroller Peter Franchot and Ocean City politicians.
A Goucher College poll right after Hogan signed the order found 68 percent support for starting school after Labor Day. A poll this year from Gonzales Research & Media Services found 56 percent of respondents supported starting school after Labor Day, and 40 percent supported allowing local school districts to make the decision of when to start.
“Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s right,” said Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat who argued that summer-learning loss contributes to an achievement gap between students of different races and economic status. “Longer summers result in less time to learn.”
But Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Baltimore County Republican who is a former teacher and House minority whip, argued for the governor’s position.
“It is the right thing to do for our kids, our teachers and the state to have school start after Labor Day,” Szeliga said.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Jimmy DeButts contributed to this report.