The state education department is working on a system of letting local districts seek exemptions from a new gubernatorial mandate that schools start after Labor Day.
Maryland’s 24 school districts can apply for a waiver from the state education board to be excluded from a post-Labor Day start, newly mandated by an executive order from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
Members of the Maryland State Board of Education asked the Maryland State Department of Education on Tuesday to draft guidance that will help specify for them and the local school districts how the waivers and the application process would work.
Calendar planning in local districts is underway for the 2017-18 school year, they said, when the order takes effect. The order also says school years must end by June 15.
Per the executive order, state board members cannot approve waiver requests without green-lighting a state regulation, which could take months to develop, creating a tight timeline for the districts, board President Andy R. Smarick said.
“I view this guidance as the first step,” Smarick said in a Tuesday night phone call.
The executive order states that local districts must offer “compelling justification” to be granted a waiver, which has yet to be defined. Waivers must be approved annually by the state board.
State board members — some of whom Hogan appointed — bristled over the governor’s possible encroachment on their authority.
“When I see people outside of the organization setting direction that has impact on the quality of life of these young people, it raises for me the gravest concerns,” said board Vice President S. James Gates Jr., who was not a Hogan appointee. “While we recognize the governor is certainly an important citizen in our state, that doesn’t mean we simply have to become a rubber stamp.”
Chester E. Finn Jr., who was appointed by the governor in 2014, called restricting the calendar options for school districts “a bad idea” and said calendar decisions should remain with local school districts.
Stephanie R. Iszard, another Hogan appointee, said the board respects the authority of the governor, but the state board is in charge of Maryland’s students.
Smarick said in the meeting that the board should consider the precedent that Hogan’s executive order sets.
He said in a later interview that the governor’s office gave the board some notice that it was considering pushing for a post-Labor Day start.
Board members were not provided an embargoed copy of the executive order and received it along with the rest of the public shortly after Hogan’s announcement Aug. 31.
State board members voted unanimously on Tuesday in favor of getting guidance from the State Department of Education.
Generally, local districts submit waivers to the state superintendent, who provides them to the board, department spokesman Bill Reinhard said.
Laura E. Weeldreyer, whom Hogan appointed in 2015, said the evidence against a post-Labor Day start is monumental. She listed a number of common criticisms that local school district leaders and the teachers union have aired against Hogan and his order.
Students’ academics may deteriorate in the summertime, and extending summer by roughly two weeks could burden low-income students and their families, she said.
“It is distressing in terms of the content and the sort of the evidence basis that this order sort of ignored,” Weeldreyer said.
She said the executive order may disrupt school districts’ processes of calendar planning, so the board wanted to move forward as quickly as possible with approving the waivers. The State Education Department will begin developing regulations on waivers to be voted on at a future meeting.
Douglass Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan’s office, emphasized that no waiver can be approved without a regulation in place. He said that the governor appreciated the board members’ work and they were “free to have their own opinions.”
In response to some of the arguments Weeldreyer referenced, Mayer said a state task force formed by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, and legislative leaders studied a post-Labor Day start date and delved into these issues. That committee voted 12-3 in favor of starting school after Labor Day.
Supporters of the post-Labor Day start, including Comptroller Peter Franchot, often cite its popularity among Marylanders and economic benefits for the state.
A Franchot spokesman, Alan Brody, also referenced the task force, noting that the membership of the task force was appointed by O’Malley and legislative leaders. He said that polls indicate the public still supports the policy.
Lawmakers requested a formal opinion from the state attorney general’s office on whether Hogan legally used an executive order.
No opinion has been produced. However, a lawyer from the attorney general’s office wrote in a lengthy letter that while he could not “unequivocally” say that Hogan had exceeded his authority, a court “likely” would rule that way.