Board approves 2021–22 calendar; school year to begin before Labor Day


The MCPS Board of Education finalized the 2021–22 school year calendar on Tuesday. Classes will begin after Labor Day for the second consecutive year.

By Lily Freeman

MCPS classes will begin August 30 and end June 15 for the 2021–22 school year, marking the second consecutive year that school will begin before Labor Day. The Board of Education approved the plan as part of its vote to finalize the 2021–22 calendar on Tuesday.

The calendar includes 182 school days, which is two more days than state law mandates, alongside a ten-day spring break, non-instructional days on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and professional days on Eid al-Fitr and Lunar New Year. Maryland law also requires a number of days off for national and Christian holidays, including Thanksgiving, Good Friday and Easter Monday.

The Board made the most pragmatic scheduling decisions possible, particularly in planning for the school year to begin before Labor Day, said Board of Education member Patricia O’Neill.

“Calendars are sort of based on the old agrarian model when kids were at home working in the fields,” O’Neill said. “There’s a tradition for many who believe we should start after Labor Day, but I’ve always found that once exams are over, kids’ minds are on other things. So you have to look at both ends of the school year.”

If the Board had chosen a post-Labor Day start, school would have begun September 8, the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The Board received a “large outpouring” of emails from community members protesting against this potential outcome, O’Neill said. Over 450 community members signed on to freshman Yaela Tiplinsky’s petition for the Board to move the proposed start date to September 9.

Despite the fact that the school year won’t conflict with Rosh Hashanah, many Jewish students said they were disappointed that Board members would examine the possibility in the first place.

“They should be held accountable for even considering disrespecting an entire holiday that is super important to the Jewish community,” said sophomore Eliana Joftus, a co-president of Whitman’s Jewish Student Union. “It’s really disappointing, and I think it’s important for everybody to know that people who are white or Christian or feel like they have privilege — they really do, because they don’t have to worry about a holiday of theirs being overlooked.”

In 2016, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan issued an executive order requiring that school calendars begin after Labor Day and end no later than June 15. The state legislature overturned Hogan’s mandate in 2019, and instead granted county boards of education full authority to decide when calendars start and finish.

O’Neill said she believes beginning before Labor Day is essential because fall sports teams begin practicing in mid-August. If the school year were to start in September, a number of athletes would return to school grounds long before the beginning of the school year. That position was shared by many community members who emailed the Board, according to O’Neill.

Cross Country runner Mia Martin, however, said a delayed start wouldn’t have been detrimental to students.

“We’re just kind of used to starting in the beginning of summer,” Martin said. “We used to start before Labor Day anyways. It would be nicer to have school after Labor Day because a lot of people go away.”

For some AP teachers, beginning after Labor Day would take time away from preparing for AP exams, since the tests take place across the nation on the same day, regardless of region. Some states’ school terms begin in late July, which, when MCPS schools started after Labor Day, caused some Whitman teachers to feel like they had to cover material quickly as a means of playing catch-up.

“You do feel rushed, particularly when snow days get put into place and you end up missing time,” said AP Psychology teacher Kenneth Heckert. “Those other states did get an advantage.”

The Board added two potential make-up days to the end of the year in case of snow days, but since students were able to learn remotely during inclement weather this year, the fate of days off from school remains unclear. At a September Board meeting, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith said he’s uninterested in allowing days off for icy conditions.

“Even in the best world? I don’t want to have a snow day again,” Smith said.

O’Neill said she understands that remote instruction may be ideal for a snow day, but that her “grandchildren like to go sledding.”

The calendar decision this year came later than usual — MCPS typically finalizes the next school year calendar by December, but in September, Board members pushed this year’s approval back to learn more about the coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 didn’t end up affecting the calendar, but the decision-making process will always be complex, O’Neill said.

“Everything becomes a trade-off,” she said. “No matter what we do, somebody is going to be angry about it.”