When Baltimore County Parent Cheryl Knauer first heard about the state’s decision to push the start of the school year until after Labor Day, she says that she worried she wouldn’t find any activities for her children to do during the extra week.
Knauer, who works as the media relations director for McDaniel College in Westminster, knew that the college’s classes would continue to begin in late August and was concerned her children—ages 8, 11 and 16—wouldn’t have anything to do.
“It turned into a good thing for us,” Knauer says. “We had started looking at taking a big trip to Disney and we ended up doing it that week that they would normally be in school. Now the kids don’t have to miss school for the trip.”
Last fall, Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order declaring that Maryland’s schools would commence classes after Labor Day and end classes no later than June 15. The order, which declared that starting school prior to Labor Day has negatively impacted the state’s economy, also stated that the postponed start will prevent students from returning to schools without air conditioning during the hot month of August.
School officials throughout the state were tasked with adjusting their school calendars to the new schedule, building in an appropriate number of snow days and ensuring students are in classes for 180 days each school year.
For teachers, the calendar will be familiar: Teachers return to school seven business days before students in Howard County and have professional time throughout the year similar to prior years, says Caryn Lasser, director of executive services for Howard County Public Schools. Rather than tacking snow make-up days at the end of the school year, three were identified during spring break and one is on June 15, she says.
The Howard County school district also conducted a Religious and Cultural Observances-Calendar Impact Survey—to which 12,865 households and 3,416 staff members responded—that helped the school board determine that schools would close Sept. 21 for Rosh Hashanah due to an expected high number of absences among students and staff, she says.
In Carroll County, Chantress Baptist, director of human services for the county school system, says that the school calendar has been pushed back about a week later for teachers as well as students and the district had to “significantly adjust our professional development days throughout the year” as a result of the executive order.
Also, spring break was shortened to Good Friday and Easter Monday, she says.
“We’re going to see if there are any true issues that arise,” she says. “We hope not, but when it comes to election years, it will be a little more difficult to accommodate a post-Labor Day start.”
Mychael Dickerson, spokesman for Baltimore County Schools, says that teachers are holding their pre-school meetings and kickoff assemblies on a similar schedule as in years’ past and that the district also shortened its spring break.
“We just had to adjust the calendar and make sure we had the required days for students and staff,” he says.
In addition to calendar changes, students in Baltimore County have new leadership under Interim Superintendent Verletta White, who started work over the summer and has identified literacy and discipline as issues she hopes to address this school year.
“We’re excited,” he says. “Everyone thinks we’re off for the summer, but we’re really just gearing up for the next school year.”
Misty Shappell, a teacher for English speakers of other languages (ESOL) in Howard County, has spent the summer at Hollifield Station Elementary School in Ellicott City, working with kids from across Howard County who needed to attend summer school because they were falling behind in their classes.
Shappell says she worries that an extended summer will only mean some students will fall farther behind in their academic skills.
“I think it’s worse for kids. I think it’s a bad decision, especially for students who are struggling and are behind,” she says. “You are lengthening the summer slide.”
Knauer says that the summer slide concerns her, too. Lucky for her children, she says, teachers in her Towson-area school district have given them all summer assignments. Her youngest daughter had to complete a reading log before she returns to school.
“I think the teachers are doing a good job of making sure they stay busy,” Knauer says.
For Jon Bisset, executive director of River Valley Ranch in Manchester, which ushers about 2,500 children between the ages of 4 and 17 through its various summer camps, the change in the school calendar worked out well.
Bisset, who says staffing for the camps relies heavily on college students who return home in late May and return to college in late August, says that the extra week provides a good buffer between camp and school and allows the business to more easily fill its last camps of the season.
The camps’ schedules were already set when the executive order was issued, but Bisset says that he has fielded several requests for camps in late August from parents looking for ways to fill their children’s final week at home.
“We haven’t made a decision about that,” he says. “Of course it allows us to consider extending our summer a little bit, but a lot will depend on staffing.”
Knauer says that she was happy that the new school calendar worked for her family.
“I’m interested to see what happens if there are a lot of Maryland families at Disney that week because there are all these people with that extra time,” she says.
How is the change in the school calendar affecting your family this year? Email [email protected] We will include a roundup of answers at BaltimoresChild.com.