Maryland school calendars updated

The Washington Post reports on the school calendar changes in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County:

Montgomery County school officials reset the final day of classes for next school year and shortened two teacher workdays as part of a new plan to meet Gov. Larry Hogan’s order that Maryland schools extend their summer recess through Labor Day.

The county’s school board voted unanimously this week to revise the system’s 2017-2018 academic calendar so that classes, which will start Sept. 5, will end June 12 unless severe weather forces school closings during the year.

“Chris Lloyd, president of the county teachers’ union, estimated that educators will lose about eight hours of grading and planning time during the instructional year,” the Post reported.

Prince George’s County officials announced their plans for next year on Tuesday: School will start Sept. 6 and end June 13. But makeup days for snow and other inclement weather could potentially extend the school year to June 14 or 15, shift the Presidents’ Day holiday on Feb. 19 to a school day or, as a last resort, shorten spring break by as much as two days.

Fairfax County students to start school before Labor Day next year

The Fairfax County School Board recently approved the Calendar for School Year 2017-2018, which sets the first day of school as Monday, August 28, 2017, and the last day as Friday, June 15, 2018. In February, the Virginia Department of Education informed the school board that Fairfax County Public Schools qualified for a waiver to begin the school year prior to Labor Day.

This waiver is granted if a division misses an average of eight days per year during any five of the last 10 years due to weather conditions or other emergency situations. During the last 10 years, FCPS had five years in which the average number of snow days equaled more than eight days.

At the December 1 school board meeting, Megan McLaughlin (D-Braddock) supported the pre-Labor Day start, which gives more time to prepare for national tests, but she noted that the community was almost evenly split on the issue. A survey was sent out March 30 and 36,000 responses were received from parents. “Some of us were raised on the beauty of summer, which began in June and you didn’t go back until after Labor Day.”

Dalia Palchik (D-Providence) will make a request at an upcoming school board forum to create a calendar subcommittee of the Human Resources Advisory Committee. “If approved, this group would work with staff in the development of future calendars and incorporate community feedback,” she wrote in Providence District School Board Newsletter, December, 2016. “In addition, it will engage members of the inter-faith community to ensure we are being as thoughtful as possible about student religious observances.”

Karen Corbett Sanders (D-Mount Vernon) said she supported the proposal to have a community group help develop the calendar. “We have a commitment to allow community members to provide feedback.” Jeanette Hough (R-Member-at-Large) said she absolutely agreed with the need for more public community input. Elizabeth Shultz (R-Springfield) noted that by the time there was opportunity for the public to have input on the calendar, it was draft 7 or 8, “It was a binary choice.”

Ilryong Moon (D-Member at Large) noted that the calendar provides two full weeks of winter break plus January 1, and one full week of spring break plus the Monday after spring break. This is a better way of describing the actual amount of time off for students than the FCPS press release, which refers to a two-week winter break and a one-week spring break.

The last day of school will include a two-hour day for high schools and secondary schools, and a two-hour early dismissal for all other grades. However, Schultz said she thought that June 15 was rather late for the end of the school year and she heard from a lot of families who questioned why it wasn’t earlier. She advocated greater engagement with the public over tightening the school year. “All of the three-and-a half and four day weeks wreak havoc on students and families as well.”

Schultz suggested that more professional development days for staff could be added before or after the school year starts or ends for students. Although Schultz strongly supported the pre-Labor Day start, she voted against the 2017-2018 calendar, “trying to foreshadow some of the work that needs to come.”

All the other school. board members voted in favor of the 2017-2018 calendar. Jane K. Strauss (D-Dranesville) said that the teacher workdays are very important to staff.

Chair Sandy Evans (D-Mason District) noted that a few years ago three schools (Stuart High School, Falls Church High School, and Glasgow Middle School) had the experience of starting school two weeks earlier and ending two weeks earlier than the other schools in the school system. They had quickly adjusted to the earlier schedule.

November 11, Veterans Day, will be on a Saturday next year. Schultz and McLaughlin both promised to bring back their advocacy for a student holiday on Veterans Day for the following school year.

Graduations will be held on or after June 7, 2018. Ryan McElveen (D-Member-at Large) noted that this was the first time he had notice that a “G” had been put on the school calendar for graduation. Chief of Staff Marty Smith explained that graduation is scheduled seven days prior to the last day of school.

Critics cite negative effects of a post-Labor Day start for schools

In response to Governor Larry Hogan’s executive order that schools must start after Labor Day, the Baltimore Sun reports that Democrats are saying that that local decisions are best left to local officials while Republicans are supporting the decision.

During the first Board of Public Works meeting since he announced the order last week, state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp turned to Hogan on Wednesday morning and flatly called the move an “abuse of executive power.”

“It was a misuse of authority,” said Kopp, a Democrat who serves on the three-member panel with the Republican governor. “We’ll see how it plays out.”

She said she was awaiting Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s formal opinion on the matter.

Could a late school start mean an end to spring break? The Washington Post notes that some school districts might end school breaks or cut teacher work days or certain holidays. The Post reports local needs weigh heavily on how school years are designed.

Snow, for example, is a big factor in the school calendar for Garrett County, home to Deep Creek Lake and Wisp ski resort. The school district has a calendar that is already “down to the bone,” said Jim Morris, a school system spokesman. A few years ago, 20 days were lost to snow, he said.

Morris said the greatest concern is if the new state mandate means that, when snow days pile up, school years get cut short of their required 180 days. “That would give our kids an instructional disadvantage,” he said.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Jennifer L. Steele  says the big question is how the order will affect student learning:

Decades of research have shown that students forget some of their learning during the summer, especially in math — a phenomenon known as summer slide. Worse, the size of the slide depends on students’ socioeconomic backgrounds, with those from low-income backgrounds losing more ground, especially in reading. Why? One factor may be that wealthier students have greater access to enriching summer activities — camps, travel and internships. They may also spend more time on literacy-related tasks.

Steele noted that the executive order could end up slashing teacher planning days and midyear breaks. “Though the research on compressing vs. expanding the instructional calendar is mixed, there is at least some evidence that distributing breaks at regular intervals across the year may benefit the lowest-income students.”






Maryland schools start planning for post-Labor Day start next year

Maryland schools will not be allowed to start before Labor Day next year. Here is a roundup of news and analysis on this issue:

Anne Arundel schools consider shortening spring break. Anne Arundel County school officials say they might reduce spring break and cut the day before Thanksgiving and several parent-teacher conference days to comply with Governor Larry Hogan’s order to start schools after Labor Day.

A Capital Gazette editorial notes that the mandate to start after Labor Day and end by June 15 or earlier means that school administrators will need to provide 10 more instructional days in the 2017-18 school year. Our say: Hogan must handle Ocean City Order’s fallout.

Other consequences go beyond the schedule squeeze. Schools will now have less time to help students recover from the annual “summer slide” and prepare for standardized exams that cannot be rescheduled. This may impair efforts to close the achievement gap. And many children will lose a couple of weeks of free- and reduced-price meals.

The Washington Post reports, Md. governor’s order for post-Labor Day school start leaves Democrats squirming.Extending summer vacation may boost the first-term Republican’s already high popularity, analysts say, given that polls show large majorities of Marylanders favor the move. The governor’s action also gives him a new opportunity to publicly battle with Democratic legislative leaders, who have killed past attempts to mandate a post-Labor Day return to school because of concerns from school officials and teachers unions about test prep, snow days and limiting summer learning loss.”

The reported that parents expressed opinions on both sides of the issue. Elizabeth Drachman of Fairfax County noted that Fairfax decided to start before Labor Day next year partly to be more consistent with Maryland.

The Baltimore Sun reports that Hogan’s order does not apply to private and religious schools.

Maryland law does dictate that non-public schools, which include religious and independent schools, must have at least 170 days of school. Those schools are also required to have a school calendar and to build in three to five additional days that schools can close for bad weather.

LoudounNow calls for earlier start to school year

A LoudounNow editorial says that local school systems should choose their own school year schedule.

Loudoun County schools opened Monday and the Virginia economy seemed to weather the storm just fine. It isn’t a pre-Labor Day class calendar that can be blamed for the state government’s under-performing revenue projections.

Students in three of Loudoun’s neighboring jurisdictions got a bigger head start. Students in Fauquier County and Jefferson County, WV, are in their third week of classes. Clarke County students got back to work a week ago. Prince William schools, like Loudoun’s, opened Monday. Only Fairfax County students are still enjoying their sleep-late summer schedule after their school board opted to maintain the traditional post-Labor Day start; however, they’re already on notice that next year’s classes will start earlier.

Each of those Virginia school districts is allowed to open before Labor Day this year only because they qualified for a weather-related exemption to the General Assembly’s Kings Dominion Law. Unless school districts rack up at least eight snow days during five of the past 10 years, they are prohibited from opening before the late summer holiday.

The editorial concluded: “Changing weather patterns may make the state’s restriction moot—at least for snow-prone Northern Virginia jurisdictions. However, there is no reason for either the whims of Mother Nature or the dictates of the General Assembly to control educational opportunities localities choose to offer to their students.”

Will Maryland schools start after Labor Day next year?

“Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot, two of the state’s strongest advocates for starting the school year after Labor Day, say they will make a major announcement on the subject Wednesday.” the Washington Post reports.

In Virginia, schools start after Labor Day unless they get a waiver due to “good cause.” For instance, the waiver is allowed if a school division has been closed an average of eight days per year during any five of the least 10 years because of severe weather conditions, energy, shortages, power failures, or other emergency situations. Quite a few Virginia school districts start before Labor Day this year. Fairfax County will start school one week prior to Labor Day in 2017.

Fairfax County might start school before Labor Day for 2017-18 school year

At an upcoming work session, the Fairfax County School Board will consider starting school before Labor Day for the 2017-18 school year. Due to the recent number of snow days, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) qualifies for a waiver from the post-Labor Day requirement. Prior to taking a vote, the school board will gather feedback from parents, teachers, and community members. The 2016-17 school year calendar, adopted in December, remains in effect and designates Tuesday, September 6, as the first day of school.

According to the Code of Virginia (22.1-79.1), the Board of Education may waive the state requirement to begin schools after Labor Day if a district is closed an average of 8 days per year during 5 of the past 10 years due to weather conditions, energy shortages, power failures, or other emergencies.

FCPS qualifies for the waiver because, during five of the past 10 years, the district has averaged 8.4 days missed due to weather conditions and other events.  Based upon this current average of missed days, the waiver option will continue at least through the 2019-20 school year.

Cancel the upcoming teacher workdays!

 The Washington Post points out that Prince William County has a scheduled teacher workday Monday, so students will have had 13 days away from school when they return on Tuesday: Some parents and educators fret about so many days lost to snow cleanup . This is an example of an overly bureaucratic approach to sticking to a schedule. Let the students go back to school on Monday!

Also, Fairfax should skip its scheduled 2-hour early dismissal on February 4 and student holiday on February 5. Let the students have more time at school!


Fairfax was too slow in clearing snow from school parking lots

Yesterday I wrote that Fairfax County should clear snow from sidewalks, bus stops, and fire hydrants.

That is worth considering for the future. Meanwhile there are questions about how well the County is handling its current responsibilities for snow removal. Judi Reitman points out that Fairfax County was too slow in clearing snow from school and library entrances and parking lots. In email sent this afternoon, she writes:

My subdivision, Willow Run, was one of the lucky ones.  VDOT had hired a snowplow contractor to periodically throughout the snow storm plow the subdivision streets, and by Monday morning, January 25, if you could get to the street, you could get out to a main road.  I didn’t venture out until Tuesday afternoon, January 25, and on my way back from the Giant on 236, I glanced at the George Mason Library.  It was about 2:30 that afternoon, and I was surprised to see the first snowplow just starting to tackle the parking lot, actually right at the entrance. As I continued home I noticed that no one had started plowing Thomas Jefferson’s back exit, and it appeared that the front entrance had just been started with no work done on any parking lots.

Once home, I started thinking.  Why didn’t Fairfax County contract with snow plow operators like VDOT had?  If the county had contracts that stated that once the roads were passable, the snowplow operator would start plowing libraries and schools, this work would have been done on Monday, not late Tuesday and Wednesday.  That might have made a difference in opening the schools.  I went past the library again today and it was open and packed with people.

Fairfax County should clear snow from sidewalks, bus stops, and fire hydrants

To justify their decision to keep schools closed tomorrow and Friday, Fairfax administrators said that there were numerous sidewalks and bus stops still covered with snow. They politely ask members of the community to please clear these sidewalks and bus stops.

This policy of simply hoping that all the sidewalks used by students will be cleared by various individuals is clearly ineffective. It is not much better than simply waiting for all the snow to melt away. I liked the op-ed by Tom Vanderbilt in today’s New York Times which questions why clearing sidewalks is so often considered to be a private responsibility.

Sidewalks occupy a curious place in the American city. As the scholar Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris has noted, in 19th-century cities the maintenance of sidewalks was assigned to abutting homeowners because they were presumed to benefit the most from these newly built amenities. And yet, in most jurisdictions, municipalities have had a shared responsibility (particularly in slip-and-fall lawsuits, although this liability in New York was shifted to property owners in 2003).

So even though the sidewalk is, in practice, a public space that almost every New Yorker will use in the course of a day, it is treated instead as a piecemeal extension to private property. (As a thought experiment, imagine if property owners had to shovel not just their sidewalks, but the street in front of their buildings, too.) And there is that curious no man’s land at street crossings, a legal limbo beyond the reach of the shovels of the corner bodega or bank, and buried by the snow pushed aside by rumbling city plows.

Vanderbilt also points to how communities can assume responsibility for this:

In the wake of the storm, the city began hiring temporary “snow laborers” to shovel out hydrants, crosswalks and other spaces. This itself smacks of haphazard catch-up, a game other cities don’t play. Rochester, for instance, plows the sidewalks after storms that drop more than four inches of snow; Montreal starts doing it after one inch. Even car-oriented places like the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights has sidewalk-specific Bombardier snow removal machines. New York City, the country’s capital of pedestrianism, can do better.

So can Fairfax County! The county should be responsible for clearing sidewalks, bus stops, and fire hydrants.

The other day I spent about a half hour clearing snow from a fire hydrant on the street next to our side yard. This is an important responsibility, but is it really prudent to rely on various individuals to be able to handle this chore in a timely manner? I suggested in an email to the Lincolnia Park Google Group that perhaps our civic association could hire a contractor to handle this job in the future. Others have commented that some places have an adopt–a-hydrant program. That is interesting.

However, Tom Vanderbilt’s excellent article has convinced me that it is quite reasonable to ask our local government to clear our public sidewalks, bus stops, and fire hydrants.