When should Montgomery County Public Schools schedule closures? Various groups have advocated for culturally or religiously significant closures for years, and now school officials are trying to find the answer in data.

The Montgomery County Board of Education is sifting through the most popularly requested school closures, in an effort to set the calendar for the 2019-2020 school year.

More than 37,000 responses were included in an analysis by Hanover Research to gauge the likelihood that students will be in school on frequently requested closures.

The data comes as the school system grapples with continued fallout from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s 2016 executive order mandating that public schools begin instruction after Labor Day and end by June 15, providing 180 instructional days in between.

The majority of surveys, 73 percent, were completed by parents. Twenty-two percent of responses were from MCPS staff members, 3 percent from students and 2 percent from community members.

The survey found that, among frequently requested closures, student and staff attendance rates may be lower for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Veterans Day.

At least 10 percent of parents said that their children would not attend school on Rosh Hashanah (15 percent), Yom Kippur (15 percent), Veterans Day (14 percent), Passover (12 percent) and Columbus Day (10 percent).

At least 10 percent of staff said they would not work on the following holidays:

  • Rosh Hashanah, 17 percent;
  • Yom Kippur, 17 percent;
  • Veterans Day, 15 percent;
  • Passover, 14 percent;
  • Orthodox Christmas, 10 percent; and
  • Orthodox Easter, 10 percent.

There was a lower likelihood of absence for students and staff on other holidays, including Columbus Day, Lunar New Year, Orthodox Christmas, Orthodox Easter, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha and Diwali.

The decision to close schools is based on either state mandates or the number of students and staff expected to be absent rather than official observance of any holiday by the school system.

The survey also explored how aware parents and other groups were of state-mandated school closings, which limit the discretion of the board in setting additional closures.

More than 80 percent of all groups were aware of the following state-mandated closures: Memorial Day, Thanksgiving and the day after, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, winter break and Presidents’ Day.

Staff members were substantially more aware of mandated closures for Election Day and the Friday before and Monday after Easter.

Parents are also less aware of the school system’s policies related to excused absences, make-up assignments and perfect attendance policies. Only 37 percent of parents were aware that schools may not withhold perfect attendance awards from students who missed school due to excused religious observations, while 44 percent of students and 72 percent of staff were aware of the policy.

The report suggests the school system do more to increase awareness, including sending a reminder message to students and parents before frequently requested closures.

The survey was launched May 1 and was available in seven languages: Amharic, Chinese, English, French, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.

About 190,000 invitation emails were sent to parents and staff in the school system, with an additional 19,000 postcards sent to families for which MCPS did not have email information.

The Board of Education authorized the study by a unanimous vote in November 2017.

Later this summer, the board’s policy subcommittee will review possible school calendar scenarios. The full board is expected to take action by December.