Opening day at Captain Walter Francis Duke Elementary School. Photo by Ron Bailey

Leonardtown, MD — This year the St. Mary’s County Public Schools (SMCPS) were the earliest in the state to begin the school year – Aug. 17. Calvert County started Aug. 24 and Charles on Aug. 31.

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has been the Pied Piper of a movement to return school openings to after Labor Day, in deference to the state’s tourism industry. Worcester County, home of Maryland’s biggest tourist attraction, Ocean City, does just that, with a Tuesday, Sept. 8 open this year.

A parent criticized the St. Mary’s school calendar at the Board of Education’s Sept. 9 meeting. “There is no conclusive peer-reviewed evidence that a modified school year calendar is able to significantly raise student achievement and yet that calendar is what we follow in St. Mary’s County Public Schools,” said Joe Belanger, father of a Captain Walter Francis Duke Elementary School student.

Worcester County will be closing schools in June of 2016, three days later than St. Mary’s County (June 17 vs. June 14). Worcester also generally has less snow than St. Mary’s and thus fewer snow make-up days. St. Mary’s builds five snow days into its calendar.

Belanger, in his report to the school board during the public comment section of the meeting agenda, compared Worcester and St. Mary’s academically. While he praised St. Mary’s, he observed that Worcester’s 2014 reading and math proficiency scores were significantly higher yet Worcester was a poorer county, with twice the child poverty level percentage (10.5 vs. 20.8)

Belanger said a recent Goucher College Poll showed that 72 percent of Maryland residents support public schools starting after Labor Day. He said, “Starting school after Labor Day would be an economic benefit to our students, teachers and state. As a former student and teacher, I can tell you that I worked summer jobs for three decades. Many of our students do not come from affluent households and they need work during summers to pay for rapidly rising college costs.”

In conclusion, Belanger told the school board, “There is very questionable academic benefit to support our current SMPCS calendar. It is time to review the SMCPS calendar and strongly consider returning to starting school in September.”

As is the customary practice, none of the school board members commented on the presentation.

Contact Dick Myers at