UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) 2017-2018 school calendar may stir up controversy if the county school board chooses to pass the proposed dates. Late last summer, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a pair of executive orders demanding local school systems not start school until after Labor Day and end before […]
UPPER MARLBORO – The Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) 2017-2018 school calendar may stir up controversy if the county school board chooses to pass the proposed dates.
Late last summer, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a pair of executive orders demanding local school systems not start school until after Labor Day and end before June 15. Last week, the Prince George’s County Board of Education discussed the calendar for next school year and possibilities before the school system.
“Starting Maryland public schools after Labor Day is not just a family issue – it’s an economic and public safety issue that draws clear, strong, bipartisan support among an overwhelming majority of Marylanders,” Hogan said during the executive order ceremony.
Since the executive order, school systems across Maryland have had to put serious thought into their calendars as the federal government mandates a 180-day year while students athletics start over the summer, a certain number of days are needed to prepare students for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests and Maryland students must participate in a number of standardized tests.
Most of the state’s school systems have already submitted their calendar for next school year, but Prince George’s has yet to do so after delays due to board discussion and a parent survey about holiday priorities.
Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of PGCPS, said the school system did not learn much from its parent survey.
“We did the survey and my brief summary of that is everybody wants everything,” Maxwell said. “Everybody wants to leave spring break alone. Everybody wants to have their holidays. Everybody wants us to start and end by ‘here’ and it puts us in a vice.”
Now the Maryland State Department of Education is requesting a final calendar and parents want to make plans for the summer.
The recommendation compiled by staff at the Feb. 2 board meeting was created after they and Maxwell analyzed the survey data and took into account the needs of their students.
It has a start date of Aug. 22, nearly two weeks before Labor Day, and an end date of June 6, with 192 workdays for instructional staff, 180 school days for students, seven professional duty days, two two-hour early dismissal days for professional development, one conference day, and a handful of major religious and federal holidays. It also includes four inclement weather make-up days.
Maxwell said this calendar is the one proposed to the board because it best met the needs of the school system and their students.
“I don’t think this (executive order) is about children, particularly. I think this is a decision based on other kinds of things,” Maxwell said. “Our job is – you can decide what your job is, but my job is to advocate for what I think our children need and I think they need more instructional time, not less instructional time.”
In terms of compliance and outcomes, General Counsel Shauna Battle explained that if PGCPS submits the non-conforming calendar, the state department of education will likely send a notice to the school system asking them to make changes to conform.
If PGCPS refuses, the issue would likely go to court.
In that regard, Boardmember Edward Burroughs, III wanted to know what legal authority the board had to ignore an executive order from the governor.
“What is the position of the board? What are we going to do legally? Do we support starting it after Labor Day or don’t we, and if we don’t support starting school, what is our legal authority in this situation?” Burroughs asked.
The board’s counsel suggested the board talk about legal authority in executive session, but at the same time, Maxwell said the Maryland Attorney General has already questioned the legality of the Hogan executive order.
“These issues center around a premise of local control – your authority to enact a calendar that you think meets the needs of Prince George’s County and our children,” Maxwell said. “I believe the tentative calendar that you approved meets the needs of our children and that you did that with the authority that you have.”
Maxwell said he believes there is a serious question about whether Hogan can direct school districts to do “what he wants them to,” but also said Labor Day is not a fixed a holiday and fluctuations in the date create variances in how much time the school system has to teach children.
For example, if Labor Day occurrs on Sept. 1, that gives the school system a whole week more for study compared to if Labor Day is on Sept. 6. Add that into an already complicated algorithm that includes days for testing, mandatory snow days and contract agreements with local unions that require staff development days and grading days.
Another element of the calendar discussion is the high rate of low-income families in Prince George’s County.
“It is an unfortunate reality of our 131,000-student system that an estimated 82,500 students qualify for free and reduced meals. For families with low income, schools not only provide students with instruction and extracurricular activities, but many basic needs as well, such as multiple meals each day and child care,” reads the resolution set before the board for the first reader.
Moving forward, Board Chair Segun Eubanks said the board is going to lean on the advice of their legal team if they approve a non-conforming calendar, or as he said, commit “an act of civil disobedience.”
“When the state government has put these mandates on us in the past, frankly, we’ve always looked and waited. Montgomery County was the ones who would always lead the fight against it,” Eubanks said. “And so the challenge for us is are we going be the ones to say ‘no one else is stepping up to challenge it, will it be us?’ It’s going to be a very interesting discussion we’re going to have to have.”
A final decision on the calendar will be made on Feb. 23.