Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Sun.

Aliza Saunders
Features Editor

September 27, 2016

    Since the 1990s, Howard County Public Schools have begun the student school year in late August, either a week or two weeks before Labor Day weekend; however, this might no longer be the case for next school year.
     On Wednesday, August 31, at a press conference on the Ocean City Boardwalk, Governor Larry Hogan released an executive order stating that all public schools in Maryland must begin after Labor Day and end before June 15, still with 180 instructional days. While this executive order may seem like a no-brainer for many students who want an extra week of summer vacation, this issue has a lot more substance and controversy than what is on the surface.
“There’s a lot of factors–parents, community, family time, learning time, and of course teacher time, as well,” said Social Studies teacher Ms. Chaudhry. Countless groups and individuals have recently voiced their opinions in regards to Governor Hogan’s executive order.
One of Governor Hogan’s predominant reasons for enacting this executive order was to increase business in Ocean City. Pertaining to economic activity, Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who represents Ocean City in the Maryland House, informed the The Raider Review that “The Maryland State Board of Revenue Estimates reported in 2013 a post-Labor Day school start would generate an additional $74.3 million in economic activity.”
Additionally, a post-Labor Day start will help working individuals, according to Ocean City Mayor Richard Meehan. He told The Raider Review, “It will also allow students, and teachers, to continue to work their summer jobs an additional week, which benefits not only them individually but also our local businesses.”
Mayor Meehan and Delegate Carozza both contended that a post-Labor Day start will give families more time together, which ends the summer in a more traditional fashion. Mayor Meehan said that “so many traditions are being lost today and [a traditional end of summer] is one loss than can be prevented.”
Spending time either at home or at Ocean City is tradition that many parents and teachers remembered and enjoyed from growing up. Ms. Chaudhry recalled starting high school after Labor Day and “at that age, liked the long summers.”
Furthermore, Governor Hogan addressed the lack of air conditioning in many Baltimore County schools, pointing to the fact that a post-Labor Day start could lessen the chance of a heat-related school cancellation.

“[The] calendar isn’t just something random that we make. We really want it to be functional for our community.”

       The opposition to these proposed changes has been equally vocal, as school boards, teachers, and parents have voiced their displeasure of this order.
According to a statement released by Anne Arundel County, with the new date constraint, it will be very difficult to fit all breaks, such as professional development days, parent/teacher conferences, and religious holidays into the calendar.
Mr. Paul Lemle, president of Howard County Educators Association (informally known as the Teacher’s Union) is advocating for a calendar that is created by local school boards, allowing the calendars to be specific to each Maryland county.
“The calendar issue is best decided by a local Board of Education, an elected body that gets input from all those groups,” Mr. Lemle told The Raider Review. “It’s got the business talking to them, student member, it’s got channels of input from every school, it hears from us, it hears from parents.”
School boards across the state have worked hard to create calendars that are truly in their community’s best interest. “[The] calendar isn’t just something random that we make. We really want it to be functional for our community,” Ms. Chaudhry said.
     To create a calendar that will fit into the required dates, many professional development days will most likely be removed or moved to another date, according to Mr. Lemle. He suspects that many of these professional development days that are currently during the school year will be pushed either before or after the student year. However, Ms. Chaudhry said that she prefers “having professional development days at the beginning of the school year because [she] like[s] to know what is expected of [her] during the school year.”
However, if professional work days are limited, especially those preceding the end of a marking period, then teachers must grade their students’ work at night, Mr. Lemle said. “[It] pushes teachers away from the thing that they really want to be doing, which is planning.”
     Additionally, because the school year will now be compressed, it is likely that either Spring Break or Thanksgiving Break will be shortened, according to The Washington Post. These breaks often allow students to take a breather from their stressful school year. He said that Spring Break is “long enough to give people a bit of a recharge.”
Last year’s Howard County School Board responded to its community requests for schools to be closed for several religious holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Eid, Lunar New Year, and Diwali. However, Howard County may have to reverse this progress of religious inclusion due to the new time constraint, according to The Baltimore Sun. “[For] districts that have populations that want observe these religious and cultural days, it makes it much harder for them to do that,” Mr. Lemle said.
After long summer breaks, students often fail to retain some of the information they learned the previous year, said Mr. Lemle. This becomes especially noticeable in math skills, while reading skills tend to stay consistent. Mr. Lemle said the technical term for this “brain drain” is regression without recoupment.
“Students academic skills slide in a way that they are not easily remedied at the beginning of the school year,” he said. This problem becomes significantly more of an issue for students who are from lower socioeconomic families, according to The Baltimore Sun. These students don’t have access to enriching summer camps, and an additional week of summer will only worsen this effect.
Furthermore, students may be at a disadvantage for standardized tests, especially AP exams. The date of the AP test and material on the test will stay the same, but school will be starting a week later than normal, said Mr. Lemle. He explained the extreme stress students are put under when enrolled in AP classes: heavy workloads, tons of homeworks, and weekly tests. With the new date constraints, Mr. Lemle said that all of these problems will be worsened.
Lastly, due the extra week of summer, working parents must provide an extra week of costly childcare to their children. Ms. Chaudhry noted that this can be especially difficult for kids in younger grades who cannot watch themselves like high schoolers can. With this in mind, Delegate Carozza said, “The only change we should expect regarding child care expenses is the distribution of those expenses throughout the calendar year.”
Mr. Lemle said that he will work with MSEA to pass “affirmative legislation to define the school year as decided by local boards.” He is unsure whether this calendar restraint will actually be enacted this coming school year, but he will do what he can to oppose it. With this said, Mr. Lemle noted that “when you ring the bell [teachers] will show up.”
According to The Washington Post, Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s office said that Governor Hogan may have overstepped his authority as governor. It is unknown whether or not the Attorney General and his office will bring this executive order to court, but it is definitely a possibility.
It is important to note, however, that during Governor Hogan’s Press Conference, he said school systems across the county can apply for a waiver to start school before Labor Day if they have “compelling justification.”
When it comes down to it, “we still have the same number of days,” Ms. Chaudhry said. “It’s where we put them and how we arrange them.”
A post-Labor Day start presents both its perks and downsides, as voiced by countless perspectives across Maryland: students, parents, business owners, teachers, board members, and government officials. Governor Hogan’s executive order will most likely be both challenged and praised for the coming months. Despite the contention over Hogan’s executive order, he likely has at least one strong advocate: students who will be overjoyed with an extra week of summer vacation.

Posted by Aliza Saunders