After school officials and community members discussed when school should start, the St. Mary’s school board has settled on Monday, Aug. 31, as the official start date for the 2020-21 school year.
A draft calendar had marked the start date as Aug. 26 at a school board meeting last month, but after debate among school board members, public comments at a Jan. 29 meeting and a proposed bill from Gov. Larry Hogan, the calendar committee pushed the date to the last day of August for the upcoming school year.
Hogan (R) announced his bill, the Universal School Start Act of 2020, that would make all Maryland public schools start every year after Labor Day. This is the second time he has pushed his post-Labor Day start date. The first time was as an executive order that the General Assembly eventually overturned through legislation. However, as Cathy Allen, vice chair of the school board, has pointed out, they and other school boards want to maintain local control over school calendars.
In addition to the two public commenters at the previous meeting, Jeff Maher, the school system’s chief strategic officer, said they also received five other written comments that offered five different perspectives of what the calendar should look like. He added the last day of the next school year will be Friday, June 18, 2021.
Winter break next school year will be from Dec. 21 to Jan. 1, 2021, and spring break lasts March 29 to April 5, 2021. Columbus Day, which was initially a full day off for parent conferences, is now a two-hour early dismissal, but still includes parent conferences. Other two-hour early dismissal days fall on Dec. 11 and May 21, 2021. Both will be professional development days for educators.
“Similar changes are reflected in the 2021-2022 calendar as well,” Maher said.
The 2021-2022 school year will start Aug. 30, 2021, and end June 16, 2022, with a winter break from Dec. 20 to 31, 2021, and a spring break from April 11 to 18, 2022.
Maher said that Chesapeake Public Charter School’s calendar, which marks start dates as Aug. 12, 2020, and Aug. 11, 2021, and end dates as June 11, 2021, and June 9, 2022, will remain the same as originally proposed. That school operates on its own, extended-year calendar, but still requires students to attend 180 days of school, the same as other public schools in the state.
Karin Bailey, chair of the school board, noted there were comments from “all over the board.”
Bailey, wife of Sen. Jack Bailey (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert), said she did take into consideration comments made by Jena Eschenbrenner, a paraeducator at Lexington Park Elementary School, and Walt Nilsson of Lexington Park, who accused the school board of “kind of thrusting the start date on everyone.”
“We’re never able to make everyone happy,” Allen said. However, she added, she thinks they can work with the calendar they have now.
Superintendent Scott Smith said they will probably have to make adjustments to this year’s school calendar “because we’re not going to be able to use any of our snow days” based on the mostly uncommonly temperate weather this winter. Currently, the last day of school is set for June 18, although that could be moved up a few days.
The school board also approved adjustment to policies about student activities fees, school affiliated organizations, fundraising for the improvement of facilities and fund raising in or by schools, as well as approval for the high school program of studies at its Wednesday meeting.