St. Mary’s school board members opinions differed when it came to the start date for the 2020-2021 school year, but one thing they did agree with was to avoid starting after Labor Day.
Jeff Maher, the school system’s chief strategic officer, presented both the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 calendar recommendations at a school board meeting on Wednesday based on suggestions from the system’s calendar committee and results of a survey.
The 2020-2021 proposed calendar shows a Wednesday, Aug. 26, start and Wednesday, June 16, 2021, end date. The 2021-2022 calendar shows Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, as the first day of school and Tuesday, June 14, 2022, as the last.
Proposed days off for both of the upcoming school years include Veterans Day, Thanksgiving as well as the day before and after, two-week winter break, a week of spring break, and the major holidays recognized by the state, with professional development days in between.
Maryland law requires 180 school days for students, 190 days for staff and between 1,080 and 1,170 hours in session. Teachers also need professional development days as well. The calendar drafts have built in five inclement weather days — two during the school year and three at the end in June.
A survey was made public in November that asked questions like when the first day of school should be, how important it is to keep the scheduled days off, and what other days off should be considered. Maher said the survey produced almost 3,000 responses, a record, and “more than half were parents.”
Given the three options, the survey showed most of the public would prefer an Aug. 26 start date and mostly oppose a Sept. 8 (the day after Labor Day) start since it would mean a late June end date, Maher said.
“I’m not in favor of starting after Labor Day for the next two years if almost 50% want an August start date,” Cathy Allen, vice chair of the school board, said.
“I am against starting that early,” board member Rita Weaver said about the August date.
She added there are concerns with military families coming from other states and countries who would have to travel earlier than planned to make it in time for school registration.
Superintendent Scott Smith noted that before the governor issued an executive order in 2016 to start school after Labor Day, which was later overturned by the state legislature, school always started the fourth, and sometimes third, Wednesday in August.
Weaver questioned the legitimacy of the survey when it came to the start date poll, specifically, the percentage of neutral voters: 12.4% were neutral for an Aug. 26 start date, 27.1% were neutral for Sept. 1 and 10.8% for Sept. 8. “It should be consistent but it’s not,” she said.
Bailey said she agreed and the data seemed “skewed.”
Weaver also expressed concerns about the professional development days, saying parents with smaller children would prefer having consecutive days off rather than the sporadic professional development days, making it harder to find daycare. She later added HAC, the Home Access Center, could make parent-teacher days less necessary.
“Parents should be keeping up to date with it,” she said. “Parents should be talking to the teachers then, not waiting for that one day.”
There are 14 professional development days in the proposed calendars once classes start, including professional responsibilities and parent/teacher conference days, that result in no school or a two-hour early dismissal.
“I don’t know how many parents show up to that,” Weaver said about parent/teacher conference days. “I’m going to say most don’t.”
Board member Mary Washington and Allen asked to see the number of parents who attend the Columbus Day parent/teacher conferences.
Smith said they also use a professional development day halfway through the year to see how they are doing, how to handle the rest of the year and to make adjustments if necessary — something they haven’t been able to do since the start date changed.
Maher said it’s hard on the student when they have four to six weeks without at least a half-day off, which they could use to catch up on homework.
Naggena Ohri, student board member, agreed, saying especially in the long third quarter. She also mentioned a condensed school year makes it “really hard to take AP tests.” They don’t have enough time to learn the material before the test date.
Maher’s presentation showed if students returned Sept. 1, 2020, it would add four days to the end of the year, making the last day June 22. Another option would be to have a full day of school June 16 and 17 and shorten winter break and/or eliminate some professional development days.
A Sept. 8 start date, after Labor Day, would add eight days to the end of the year, making the last day June 28. Another option would be to have full days of school from June 16 to 24, shorten winter break and or eliminate some professional development days.
Karin Bailey, chair of the school board, said if they started Aug. 31, they would have three additional instruction days. Board members also said Sept. 1 could be an option as well. Smith said it would give them a four-day week to “ease them back into the school year.”
Allen suggested Maher take their comments back to the calendar committee and give them a chance to respond, rebut or agree.
A public hearing for the proposed calendars is set for the evening on Wednesday, Jan. 29, followed by its expected approval on Feb. 12.