School Board to Weigh Cutting Spring Break, Academic Days in 2018-2019 Calendar

Officials will discuss scheduling options Oct. 10


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Academic calendars that would shorten spring break, cut instructional days or hold classes on Jewish holidays are on the table as Montgomery County educators begin formulating the 2018-2019 school year.

Montgomery County Public Schools officials are weighing these trade-offs as they work their class schedule around Gov. Larry Hogan’s mandate to begin classes after Labor Day and end them by June 15. This will be the second academic calendar the school district has designed around the order, but planning the 2018-2019 year is shaping up to be more challenging because schools must close for Election Day and because both the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur fall on school days.

“We have a real box that we’re in with the calendar,” school board member Pat O’Neill said.

O’Neill and other members of the school board’s policy management committee Tuesday looked at four possible scheduling scenarios for the district and suggested a fifth option. After accounting for legally mandated closures and the required 180 days of instruction, the school board will only have six days left for other priorities, including part of spring break, according to a staff report.

“They really have a very challenging situation on their hands, and I think that parents across the county are going to feel the squeeze of the calendar that we’re going to have to abide by next year,” said Cynthia Simonson, vice president of educational issues for the Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations.

Traditionally, MCPS has held classes for 184 days, given students a 10-day spring break (including weekends) and closed school for two Jewish holidays and for quarterly teacher planning days.

The drafted calendars for 2018-2019 take different approaches to sacrificing days from each of these categories. 

Four of the scenarios for the 2018-2019 academic calendar. Click to expand. Via MCPS.

The first option would maintain closures for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah and keep the 10-day spring break, but shorten the school year to 180 days and eliminate professional days for teachers.

Another would provide 182 instructional days and two teacher planning days, but wouldn’t observe the Jewish holidays and would shorten spring break to six days.

A third calls for 182 teaching days and closures for Jewish holidays, but no professional days and only six spring break days.

The fourth keeps the 10-day spring break and professional days, but would only have 180 instructional days and wouldn’t give time off for the two Jewish holidays.

Members of the policy committee offered a fifth model that would involve 180 student days, a six-day spring break, two professional days and days off for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, O’Neill said.

She said MCPS is collecting input on the various options and will present calendar scenarios and community feedback to the school board Oct. 10.

Simonson said eliminating observances for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur could create friction in the community, especially since the state requires schools to close to recognize the Christian holidays of Good Friday and Easter.

“I can see where it would create some ill will were the county to keep these major Christian holidays but not also honor the Jewish holidays,” said Simonson, of Derwood.

Committee members also will send correspondence to the governor, the comptroller and the Legislature, asking them to move the mandated school year end-date to June 22. The shift would give school leaders more flexibility in crafting the academic calendar, O’Neill said.

Hogan’s decision to start school after Labor Day was meant to boost state tourism and accommodate families. He has blamed Montgomery County leaders for their calendar crunch, arguing that an excessive number of teacher grading and planning days are at fault.

O’Neill said Hogan’s criticism was unfair and pointed out that eight professional days took place before students returned for the 2017-2018 academic year. Only one will happen during the school year, she said.

She said the district heard criticism from teachers who didn’t think that one professional day during the school year was enough.

Hogan’s office did not respond to requests for comment on Montgomery County’s calendar discussion.

Simonson said she appreciates the principle behind Hogan’s mandate, but wishes there were more flexibility for the school start and end dates. Easing up on some of the state-mandated closure dates during the year could help, too, she said.

The 2017-2018 calendar was the first time the school board had to align with Hogan’s mandate, and several school districts – including those in Anne Arundel, Carroll and Baltimore counties – scaled back their spring break to comply with the governor’s parameters, The Washington Post reported.

While Montgomery County’s schedule for the current year preserved the traditional spring break, it reduced student days from 184 to 182.

O’Neill said she hates to see classroom time reduced.

“Our student calendar should be going up and not down,” she said.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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