MCPS Considering Beginning 2020-21 School Year Before Labor Day

MCPS Considering Beginning 2020-21 School Year Before Labor Day

School board also debates whether to close facilities on Inauguration Day

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The Montgomery County Board of Education's Policy Management Committee meets Thursday afternoon in Rockville.

Caitlynn Peetz

In 2020, Montgomery County students could return to classes before Labor Day for the first time in four years.

At a school board committee meeting on Thursday afternoon, MCPS staff members presented three potential options for the 2020-21 school year calendar. The options include school starting on Aug. 31, Sept. 1 or Sept. 8.

Labor Day falls on Monday, Sept. 7, 2020.

Maryland lawmakers in March overturned a 2016 executive order from Gov. Larry Hogan that mandated that all public schools in the state start after the September holiday. Hogan has said the move was intended to bolster the economy of small businesses.

Local school boards have criticized the order, saying it places an unnecessary burden on school districts to meet state mandates that students attend 180 days of classes without the school year extending past June 15.

MCPS leaders said the order limited the professional development time built into the school calendar and caused problems for low-income families who struggle to afford child care during the summer.

For years, Montgomery’s school system, the largest in Maryland, opened in late August.

“The week before Labor Day, many, many people are challenged to find coverage for their children because college students are gone, camps are closed and so on,” school board Vice President Pat O’Neill said. “It’s a real challenge for a lot of our families.”

All three calendar options presented Thursday incorporate a weeklong spring break and full non-instructional days for professional development, grading and planning time at the end of each quarter. On professional development days, the staff would report to school, but students would not.

The school board committee on Thursday also debated whether the school district should close in recognition of Inauguration Day on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Martin Luther King Jr. Day — a holiday on which schools must be closed, according to state law — falls on Monday of the same week.

So, O’Neill said, closing for Inauguration Day “makes for an awkward configuration” that would “lead to high absenteeism.”

MCPS has been closed in recognition of three inaugurations: twice for former President Barack Obama and once for President Donald Trump. MCPS has a policy that says schools must be closed for the holiday. That policy would have to be changed if the school board decided otherwise.

“First of all, I don’t know who would come to school on the Tuesday between the two days off,” O’Neill said. “It’s in no way a reflection on who is elected. … It’s about the educational and operational needs of the system.”

MCPS staff members cautioned that the options presented are “not intended to be finalized calendars but rather are a starting point for further refining,” according to school board documents.

The full school board will discuss 2020-2021 school calendar options at an October meeting.

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Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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