Board forms ad hoc school calendar committee

Four Balto. County board members will address holiday debate for 2007-2008 schedule

December 22, 2005|By LIZ F. KAY | LIZ F. KAY,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore County school board members hope that a new committee will help resolve the debate over how religious holidays are recognized during the school year.

Board president Thomas G. Grzymski announced the formation of the ad hoc committee at the board's Tuesday meeting, following nearly two years of testimony by members of Baltimore County Muslim Council about Muslim holidays and more recently from others about the failure to adequately label Christmas and Easter on the school calendar.

County schools have closed on the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur for the past 10 years because some schools had sizable staff and student absences on those days. The Muslim group has lobbied to cancel classes on two Muslim holy days, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Dec. 22's Maryland section on the formation of a Baltimore County school board committee to study the school system's calendar incorrectly stated how many board members must be present for a meeting to be required to be open to the public. Meetings of seven or more members of the school board must be advertised and, except under limited circumstances, be open to the public.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"Certainly we spend an awful lot of time talking about calendar issues," Grzymski said. "We would like to try to end that."

The committee of four school board members plans to report its suggestions at a public session in about 45 days, said Luis Borunda, a board member who is chairman of the group.

"It's an attempt for the board to have input," Grzymski said yesterday. "We as a board have never given specific direction to the superintendent as to what we wanted to do with the calendar."

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston will give those instructions to the committee of parents, students and school system staff members appointed to develop the schedule. The school board will then vote on the proposed calendar a year in advance. This year's committee, which will draw up the 2007-2008 calendar, has not been selected.

Borunda, who joined the school board in August 2004, said yesterday that the committee would review the entire calendar.

"I think a lot of the decisions that have been made by previous boards may or may not reflect the thoughts and wishes of the board as it exists today," he said.

After Tuesday's meeting, Muslim Council president Bash Pharoan summarized an argument he's often repeated at school board meetings: "Either you put religion in school equally, or you take it out," he said.

He had concerns about the ad hoc committee. It has four members, fewer than the five necessary to require meetings to be advertised and open to the public.

Meetings of the superintendent's calendar committee are open to observers. Calder said that the public also can comment on the superintendent's proposal when it is presented to the school board.

Another concern raised by some residents is how holidays are labeled on the calendar.

Pat Cammarata, a Towson mother of three, asked at a November school board meeting that vacations labeled "winter break" and "spring break" on this year's calendar be restored to "Christmas/winter" and "Easter/spring" as they have in the past.

Dick Walter, a Towson school bus driver who had lobbied the board about Christian holidays twice already, requested Tuesday that the school system reprint the calendar's December and April pages to show Christmas and Easter labeled on the days they are observed.

School officials said that the dates of each month's holidays - including many for which classes are not canceled - are printed in separate lists in the calendar.

Walter noted that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday is labeled on the day it is observed in the calendar's January grid.

"I have no problem with that," he said. "Just don't exclude the Christian high days."

School system spokeswoman Kara Calder, who led the calendar committee last year, said the group considers factors that include meeting the required number of instructional days, teacher duty days negotiated through their union contracts, and the schedules of state and national tests.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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