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Board restores spring break, talks calendar options

PGCPS LOGO 2017 COLORUPPER MARLBORO — Spring break is back on for the thousands of Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) students and employees, but the topic of how the inclement weather days from earlier in the year will be made up is still up in the air.

Last week, the Prince George’s County Board of Education unanimously voted to keep spring break intact after the community pushed back on the possibility of the week-long holiday being eliminated to help the school system adhere to the 180-days of minimum instruction. PGCPS had already announced that several days of break would be used to make up for snow and dangerous weather days and an option to also use April 4 as a makeup day was on the agenda at the board’s March 29 agenda.

“With the unusual wind storm on March 2 and the late-season snow on March 22 and 23, we were forced to utilize both inclement weather makeup days during spring break (April 5 and 6), as well as request the board of education to approve a sixth inclement weather makeup day on April 4,” the school system said in a letter home to parents dated March 27.

PGCPS, as well as several other school systems throughout the state, have grappled with tough decisions regarding inclement weather days due to Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order regarding the school calendar. In 2016, Hogan announced he would mandate every school system to start their academic year after Labor Day, a fluctuating holiday, and end by June 15. At the same time, the school system must still meet the 180 instructional days federal minimum, adhere to national holidays and provide dates for both teacher in-service and parent-teacher conferences.

With little wiggle room last year, the board of education passed a non-compliant academic calendar to send to the state, with a back up in case of rejection. The backup calendar, which in fact became the 2017-2018 school year’s calendar, had a soft end date of June 13, with two built-in makeup days that would extend the year to June 15. After two snow days, the plan was to take from spring break to make up any other loss instructional time.

When Hogan initially announced his executive order, he had noted that schools could apply for waivers to extend past June 15, but his office quickly issued another order severely limiting the instances in which a waiver would be available.

“It is accepted fact that the vast majority of Marylanders - including parents and teachers - support a return to a common-sense school calendar that starts after Labor Day, an initiative that had strong bipartisan support long before Governor Hogan’s executive order,” Amelia Chasse, a spokesperson for the governor, said in a statement.

However, as school systems soon began to realize that a shortened spring break would likely happen this year, the Maryland General Assembly began working on a bill to soften the mandated June 15 end to the academic year. The bill would allow the school system to extend the school year by five days without state approval, effectively giving school systems the flexibility to lengthen the school year to make up for weather days.

The bill passed both chambers on March 28, but the bill needed to be reexamined by the Senate after the House added an amendment to making the bill an emergency item. Despite the bill’s purpose to allow schools to extend past the mandated June 15 end, Hogan’s office has indicated that the governor will sign the legislation if and when it crosses his desk.

“I spoke with the governor’s office right before this meeting, and he has not received the bill. As soon as he receives the bill, he will sign it in order save … spring break,” Boardmember Edward Burroughs, III, said.

Still, several members of the board of education expressed cautious optimism in regards to the General Assembly bill, urging county residents to phone the governor’s office and ask him not to veto.

Boardmember Curtis Valentine noted that he found it odd to be praising the state leader for potentially approving a bill that fixes a problem he caused.

“Prior to this bill, he could have at any time rescinded the executive order,” Valentine said. “He had the power to relieve all of us but decided to wait until this morning.”

At the same time, however, residents of the county said they do not care who is to blame for spring break possibly being nixed; they just want the issue fixed.

“As a parent, I don’t care whose fault it is. Blame the governor. Blame this school board. It doesn’t matter,” said Michael Kravitz, a parent who spoke at the board meeting. “What does matter are the families that are being financially burdened by canceled vacations and camps and other plans.”

Kravitz said that, while the board’s hands may be tied in regards to having to cut spring break, their constituents will have no problem voting them out of their board seating, come election time.

Several other county residents spoke at the meeting about the break, but the board needed little convincing. Board Vice-Chair Carolyn Boston was eager to suggest the board fully reinstate the entirety of spring break, given the bill passed in Annapolis.

“I would like to make a motion to fully restore spring break based on the passage of Senate Bill 729 and the commitment of the governor to sign the bill into law,” she said.

The board passed the motion unanimously to applause for the audience at the meeting.

“I know that the legislation is not quite resolved and that the governor hasn’t signed it, but I think everybody feels fairly confident that it is going to happen and so, I think, with some confidence if this board wishes to alter its calendar … my team and I will not oppose that,” schools’ leader Kevin Maxwell said.

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