2017 | Schools

MCPS Superintendent's Calendar Plan Would Shorten Spring Break in 2018-2019

Proposal to deal with scheduling crunch preserves time off for Jewish holidays, includes two full teacher planning days

School board member Pat O'Neill leads a discussion about the academic calendar for 2018-2019.

Via Montgomery County Public Schools

Updated 5:25 p.m. Wednesday: The Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent has suggested shortening spring break by four days to squeeze the 2018-2019 academic calendar inside a state-mandated timeframe.

The schedule presented Tuesday to school board members would include two full teacher planning days, preserve time off on two Jewish holidays and provide 182 instructional days, two more than the legal minimum. It does so at the expense of the traditional 10-day spring break, which would be reduced to six days under the superintendent’s proposal.
The calendar proposal follows weeks of outreach to parents, students and teacher about how to plan around Gov. Larry Hogan’s mandate to start classes after Labor Day and end them by June 15.

Officials have said the requirement forces them to choose between unattractive options, and eliminating closures on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, reducing spring break and cutting into teaching time have all been on the table. Board members have implored Hogan to relax his mandate and give them more flexibility but to no avail.

“It’s just a sad, sad circumstance we’re in,” school board member Pat O’Neill said during a committee meeting Tuesday.

Hogan has responded with sharp opposition to the board’s requests, writing in an April letter that an “unreasonable number” of teacher planning and grading days are to blame for the scheduling challenges. In the same letter, he called it “unacceptable for students to miss this much classroom time.”

His frustration with the school board’s position boiled over earlier this month at a Jewish community event in Potomac, where he said none of the board members should be reelected, the Montgomery Sentinel reported.

“The overwhelming majority of Marylanders, including parents, students and teachers, support Governor Hogan’s efforts to return to common sense school scheduling, and for school administrators to pretend that starting school after Labor Day puts religious holidays and spring break in jeopardy is simply dishonest,” Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse wrote in an email Tuesday.

Chasse also wrote that most jurisdictions have “managed to adopt a common sense calendar.”

An MCPS staff report noted that Montgomery County is one of only five Maryland jurisdictions that maintained a 10-day spring break in the 2017-2018 school year. And like Montgomery County, Baltimore County this year has considered keeping schools open on Jewish holidays, according to the Baltimore Sun.

School board members have also pointed out that the 2017-2018 calendar only gives teachers one full professional day within the school year.

Teachers have said professional days are needed for analyzing student performance and lesson planning.

“Our students need meticulously planned, dynamic lessons that use a variety of strategies. They need timely feedback so that they can improve. Students need attention and support,” Richard Montgomery High School teacher Leah Wilson told board members Monday. “Student instructional prep time is essential to student learning.”

MCPS does not cite religious observance as the reason for scheduling time off on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah and has determined these closures are necessary because of expected high student and staff absence rates on these days.

Superintendent Jack Smith's proposed calendar for 2018-2019. Via Montgomery County Public Schools.

In recent weeks, more than 1,600 comments on the calendar decision have poured in to an online mailbox set up by MCPS, and the district has held focus groups at schools around the county to gather input, according to a staff report.

The calendar Superintendent Jack Smith proposed is not the only option the school board will consider. Three board members on the policy management committee have offered three more versions for discussion. Each option offered by the board members provides half-day or full-day closures that align with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr. Muslim community members for years have advocated for school closures on Islamic religious holidays, since the MCPS calendar has long included time off on Christian and Jewish holidays.

Board member Rebecca Smondrowski’s calendar:

  • includes 182 instructional days
  • retains the traditional 10-day spring break
  • closes schools on the two Jewish holidays
  • eliminates all full professional days during the school year
  • provides two half-day closures for teacher planning and grading between semesters
  • includes a half-day closure on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

Student board member Matt Post’s calendar:

  • includes 182 instructional days
  • closes schools on the two Jewish holidays
  • closes schools on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr
  • shortens spring break to six days
  • provides one full professional day between semesters
  • schedules half-day closures at the end of other quarters.

Board member Jill Ortman-Fouse’s calendar:

  • includes 182 instructional days
  • closes schools on the two Jewish holidays
  • closes schools on the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr
  • shortens spring break to six days
  • shifts spring break forward so it aligns with Passover
  • provides one full professional day and a half-day closure between semesters
  • schedules half-day closures at the end of other quarters.

The school board will discuss all four options at a November meeting.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.