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FCPS asks for community input over difficult calendar decision

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The Frederick County Board of Education released a survey Wednesday to get public feedback on a decision to cut a traditionally scheduled day off from school for the upcoming school year.

One of four days typically given off for students will be reclaimed for the 2019-2020 calendar to allow local schools to be used as polling places for the primary election on April 28, 2020.

The community survey runs until March 27 and asks participants to rank three factors in order of importance. The three factors, taken directly from the survey, are:

  • Keeping students in school for the longest stretches of uninterrupted instructional days possible.
  • Encouraging and supporting maximum attendance from students and staff.
  • Ensuring that FCPS respects and offers equitable treatment to all its communities and their important traditions.

The four options to reclaim are “Fair Day,” on Sept. 20, gives students a day off to attend The Great Frederick Fair. Rosh Hashana, on Sept. 30, marks the start of the Jewish new year and is the first High Holy Day. Yom Kippur, on Oct. 9, is considered the holiest day in the Jewish calendar and is a day of fasting and atonement. And finally, Nov. 27 is the day before Thanksgiving.

Low attendance on the Jewish holidays and the day before Thanksgiving in other years motivated them to be designated as off days in the calendar. At its Feb. 27 meeting, the board reviewed attendance data on the proposed days during academic years when students had attended school.

Since 2009, the two years students attended school on the day before Thanksgiving, the attendance rate was 86 percent, down from the system’s 95 percent average. Attendance rate figures were not available for the years before 1998, when Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were added to the calendar.

The length of the academic calendar is constrained by several state-mandated rules. Schools are required to be open for a minimum of 180 days a year and 1,080 hours during a 10-month period. In 2016, an executive order from Gov. Larry Hogan (R) required schools to start after Labor Day and end by June 15.

Brad Young, board president, said the regulations and they way the 2019 calendar falls has put the board in a pinch.

“We have few academic days between after Labor Day and before June 15,” Young said. “With where Labor Day falls, there is just not enough days in there.”

This year, the General Assembly has worked to overturn the governor’s executive order. The House of Delegates voted 95-45 on Wednesday in favor of returning control of school start dates to the counties. However, the bill that was amended the day before does not match the version already passed by the state Senate in February.

The bills will be sent to a conference meeting, where the two chambers will try to reach an agreement on a unified bill. Each chamber will then have to vote again.

Hogan told lawmakers, when they first introduced the bill, that the public will take any bill they passed to a petition for referendum, which is the right of all voters to gather signatures in support or opposition to a bill passed by the General Assembly.

In a statement released Wednesday, Hogan called the move to overturn his executive order a “thinly veiled attempt to manipulate the will of our citizens.” The governor was referring to a 2015 Goucher Poll in which 72 percent of people in Maryland support schools starting after Labor Day. A follow-up poll in 2016, after the executive order, found 67 percent approval for the order.

“As if it isn’t bad enough that members of the legislature are attempting to reverse our common sense initiative to start school after Labor Day, they are now using heavy-handed tactics to unfairly influence the ballot process and any petition to bring this issue directly to Maryland voters,” Hogan said in the statement.

The petition would need to collect signatures from at least 3 percent of all registered voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election — in this case, 2018 — in order to pass.

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