MCPS To Survey Students, Parents, Staff on School Calendar Preferences

MCPS To Survey Students, Parents, Staff on School Calendar Preferences

School system hires firm to collect the data as soon as end of April

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Montgomery County Public Schools is preparing to query students, staff, parents and community members about closing schools on religious observances and other holidays.

The school system is aiming to collect the data over four weeks starting in late April or early May and will use it to craft a calendar for the 2019-2020 academic year, according to MCPS staff. A drafted copy of the survey includes a question targeted at assessing potential student and staff absence rates on various holidays, including Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Jewish observances.

MCPS for years has provided time off coinciding with the Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. School officials do not cite religious observance as the reason for scheduling time off but have determined that these “operational closures” are necessary because a large number of students and employees would otherwise miss those days. However, officials have recently acknowledged that the data used to support this argument is dated.

Sample question from the drafted survey on the MCPS calendar. Via Montgomery County Public Schools.

Muslim community member have long advocated for the school system to give comparable treatment to holidays such as Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. When designing the 2018-2019 academic calendar, the school board aligned a teacher planning and grading day with Eid al-Fitr so students wouldn’t have to come to class. But this provision still differs from the operational closures, which give teachers the day off.  

School board members have found it difficult to fit planned closures, teacher professional days and instructional time in the calendar in recent years because of a new state mandate. Gov. Larry Hogan in 2016 issued an executive order directing school districts to start classes after Labor Day and wrap them up by June 15.

A Maryland requirement that students spend at least 180 days in school and state-mandated closures for elections, Thanksgiving break, Christmas break, Easter break and other holidays further complicate matters. 

For the 2018-2019 calendar, the county’s school board dealt with the constraints by shortening spring break by four days. The academic schedule retains the days off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and closes schools twice for teacher professional days.

The school board in November directed MCPS staff to conduct a calendar survey to find out what dates staff, parents and the community would suggest for operational closures. MCPS is now working with a Virginia-based firm, Hanover Research, to gather the information, and on Monday, several school board members heard an update on their progress. MCPS did not immediately respond to a request for the amount the school system is paying Hanover.

Survey responses will be anonymous and confidential, and participation is voluntary, according to the presentation during a policy management committee meeting on Monday. MCPS employees will receive an email with a link to the survey. Parents will get a message that describes the survey and directs them to an MCPS web page linking them to the poll, which is hosted online by Hanover. The survey will be offered in multiple languages, and some paper copies will be available at schools.

Community members and students can access the survey via the MCPS landing page that connects to the survey. 

A draft of the survey asks participants to indicate whether they or their children would attend school on the following days: Columbus Day, Diwali, Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, Lunar New Year, Orthodox Christmas, Orthodox Easter, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Veterans Day and Yom Kippur.

Another question prompts people to rate the importance of closing schools on a variety of holidays and significant dates.

One goal of the survey is to spread information about the balancing act involved in designing the calendar, according to MCPS staff.

“I love that it’s educational,” board member Jill Ortman-Fouse said Monday.

Other school board members at the committee meeting also approved of the draft, although several asked questions about how the firm would safeguard against efforts to skew the survey results.

Joshua Civin, MCPS general counsel, said even though the survey is anonymous, Hanover Research has ways of identifying attempts to sway the outcome.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at

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