The Decision Around School Calendars Should Remain Local
By Michael A. Durso
This afternoon Governor Larry Hogan, alongside Comptroller Peter Franchot, announced and signed an executive order that mandates all Maryland public schools start after Labor Day, conclude by June 15, and include 180 days of instruction. While the Montgomery County Board of Education certainly appreciates the Governor and Comptroller’s interest in supporting beach communities on the Eastern Shore, we strongly oppose any attempt to usurp local decision making around school calendars. Prohibiting schools from starting before Labor Day ignores critical issues faced by schools and the potential negative instructional impact on students. Determining the school calendar is complicated and requires balancing educational requirements, operational issues, and unique community needs all in the interest of students. As a key stakeholder and the largest school district in the state, we are disappointed that the Governor and Comptroller did not include us in their dialogue on this issue.
The Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) calendar has a longstanding history of being developed through a collaborative review by key stakeholders within our district. Input is solicited from parents, staff, students, and community leaders. While planning the 2017-2018 school calendar, the MCPS Office of the Chief Operating Officer drew its recommendations from representatives from the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Principals, Montgomery County Education Association, Service Employees International Union Local 500, Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, Montgomery County Faith Community Working Group, and other community and district representatives. Since the announcement of the proposed calendar on May 25, 2016, continued feedback has been solicited from the community that will go into the Board’s final decision at the November Board Meeting. The positive impact of local community opinions and concerns will be lost by a state mandate.
It is important to note that traditionally MCPS has started schools before Labor Day. Many years ago, MCPS did start school after Labor Day; however, since instituting the collaborative process, our community has consistently determined that it is in the best interest of our students to start school before Labor Day. Debates around when schools should start must occur and remain at the local level where there is a need for flexibility following community feedback and engagement.
Maintaining local board authority on educational policies and administration is essential to the success of our public schools. Local boards of education are best positioned to establish policies and operational processes, as well as to balance educational practices, academic needs of students, available resources, and community interests. We appreciate the continued support on this issue from the Maryland General Assembly by their continued position that such complex decisions like this should remain with local boards of education.