Legislators need to look no further than Worcester County to conclude a post-Labor Day school start does not harm public school students or educators.
Senate Bill 128 seeks to repeal the mandate signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan in 2016. It reads, “requiring each county board to set the start date and end date of the school year for the public schools in the county each year …” Additionally, Senate Bill 131 seeks to allow individual school systems to add as many as five days onto the end of the school calendar without state approval. It provides, “authorization for a county board of education to extend the length of the school year for up to a certain number of school days beyond a certain date without approval from the State Board of Education or any other entity is not subject to additional conditions …”
The will of the legislature on these matters is unclear this early in the session, but the mere introduction of these bills has naturally raised concerns locally. The fact of the matter is the legislature as a whole was never going to approve this post-Labor Day school start mandate. The majority of legislators refused to pass previous bills requiring the later start date, despite a state task force’s recommendation to do so and polls wanting it.
Hogan’s Executive Order is the only reason this measure is in place today. In fact, if Hogan was not re-elected, there was a good chance the new Democratic governor would have killed the order allowing it. We believe it’s only a matter of time before schools are back in session before Labor Day, but the hope here is it’s at least after Hogan’s second term is completed. If these bills pass, Hogan will not likely have the votes to veto them as he did not secure the necessary seats in the November election secure a veto override.
For many years, the start of school was always after Labor Day, but that all changed 20 years ago when schools across Maryland and neighboring states began opening in mid-August. Prior to Hogan’s change, Worcester County was the only school system left in Maryland ringing its first bell after Labor Day.
Starting school after Labor Day is viewed as an inconvenience to some in education because of the calendar adjustments needed and an annoyance to others, like the majority of school superintendents who don’t like being told what to do by the governor.
Detractors like to point out this start date change was made only to support tourism destinations like Ocean City and Deep Creek Lake. We say this is an economic development initiative that helps the state on many fiscal levels. It also allows families extra vacation time together without the need to rush back into the school routine. Does it help Ocean City and its businesses? Room tax and food tax numbers indicate it clearly does result in extra business for the seasonal town.
For the last five years, Worcester County has been going back to school after Labor Day. The school system remains annually among the top achieving and most respected in the state. Study after study and report after report confirms Worcester is doing a lot right with its schools. In fact, Worcester is the envy of many school systems.
Besides politics and stubbornness, there’s no good reason to spike the current start date mandate. We hope the legislature agrees over the coming months.