2021 | Schools

Board of Education finalizes new school calendar with added half days

After procedural error in vote last week, debate continued this week

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The Montgomery County Board of Education voted Tuesday to allow county teachers to have more time for planning and professional development this spring.

The board agreed to make Jan. 12, March 24 and May 18 half days for students.

The board also added “systemwide closures” on Dec. 23; Dec. 27 to 30; April 13 and 14; and June 20, in observance of Juneteenth, now a federally recognized holiday. Those days were already holidays for students, but some were work days for certain school employees.

Attempts to change the school year calendar became contentious at the board’s meeting last week because of protests that there had not been enough advance notice of the proposed changes, especially the addition of new half days.

Because of a procedural error, while trying to vote at last week’s school board meeting, the issue was revisited on Tuesday. And the argument continued.

“These are not easy decisions and that’s why we need time to speak to our constituents,” board member Rebecca Smondrowski said. “I will vote in favor, but I cannot say strongly enough that this process must be different in the future.”

Board member Lynne Harris wanted to know more about the budgetary impact of the increased time off.

She offered an amendment that would have stricken the half days from the calendar, but it failed 5-2.

The Board of Education then approved the new calendar 6-1, with Harris the only “no” vote.

Those in favor of the new calendar said teachers and students need time off to relax and recharge.

They also pointed out that, even with the new time off, MCPS will provide more instructional hours than what the state Department of Education and some neighboring jurisdictions require.

Jennifer Martin, the president of the Montgomery County Education Association, the teachers union, said her members wanted some time off, and she was aware the Board of Education “was going to do something to help us.”

“But we were not involved (in changing the school year calendar),” Martin said. “We cannot negotiate the calendar.”

Last week’s board meeting was unusually contentious during nearly an hour of debate over the half days.

Four proposals to change the calendar failed in split votes.

On the fifth try, the board appeared to have passed a measure 6-1. However, a procedural error forced the board to meet again and return to the topic.