Harford School Calendar: Not Fair

January 19, 1993

Hi, ho, don't come to the fair! That's the troubling refrain sun by the Harford County Board of Education, in voting to begin the 1993-94 school year before Labor Day, just as the Maryland State Fair begins.

It's a troubling message to hundreds of 4-H youngsters for whom the state's annual celebration of agriculture is the highlight of the year. The board says they can be excused for the fair and make up missed work later. But for farm youngsters committed to their animals and to competitions during fair week, that's a flimsy concession.

As Harford strives to preserve its agrarian resources and heritage through a Rural Plan, and as the state Board of Education exhorts outside community service, the Harford school calendar decision marches in the opposite direction. It's not a special interest group seeking favor from the school system: the State Fair dates were set and the conflict for 4-H students was well known to the board.

If there were good reasons to start classes Aug. 30, that might be different. Unfortunately, the desire of teachers to get out earlier next June (the better to grab summer employment opportunities?) seems the overriding argument. It's a no-cost concession by the county board to teachers, who are testy after two years without a general salary increase, but it's not academically persuasive.

Superintendent Ray R. Keech's contentions that children learn better in August than in June, and that schools are hotter in June than in August, are highly dubious. If Mr. Keech demands serious teaching in the first week, 4-H youngsters participating in the State Fair will begin classes decidedly behind other students.

Harford schools could start a week later with no serious disadvantage, as the Labor Day holiday interrupts the schedule immediately after classes start Aug. 30. Kids are no more restless after Memorial Day than they are before Labor Day.

If Harford school leaders are concerned about getting enough days of instruction, they could cut some of the other holiday periods and the days off for teacher meetings that play havoc with parent calendars. It should be noted that Harford has vexingly chosen different school holiday periods than neighboring counties in the past.

The Maryland State Fair means more than Midway rides and corn dogs and horse racing. Its roots are in agriculture and Harford should nurture those roots instead of extirpating them at the whim of school system employees.

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