Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen speaks during council hearing April 12.

Baltimore City Schools are set to stick to their pandemic-era schedule of a four-day week for their summer session, with schools closed on Fridays. But City Councilmember Zeke Cohen is looking to bring back the five-day school week, which he says would support student safety.

With registration for Baltimore City school summer programs starting this April 17, and Baltimore’s Mayor Brandon Scott proposing a curfew for the city’s youth, there’s time pressure to reach a resolution.

During a City Council Public Safety and Government Operations hearing Wednesday, Cohen said returning to a five-day school week over the summer would help prevent youth violence and keep children out of danger. He said he appreciated law enforcement working to keep children safe but felt strongly a five-day summer school schedule would go a long way towards a successful preventive approach.

Cohen said at the hearing that he was “dismayed to learn that school partners had been informed that they’re not to have five-day-a-week programming, and that programming will only be four days per week. Given the sense of urgency about violence in our city, and this sort of larger conversation about all of our roles, I think it sends profoundly the wrong signal to our children and our families to only have four out of five-day programming.”

Baltimore City Schools chief John Davis responded by describing the schedule as only having “a few Fridays off,” and being necessary for retention of the very best staff for the schools.

“I would say it’s as much a retention issue as anything else,” Davis said. “But when you have school-based staff that are, in the end, opening up their buildings for 12 months straight, it is a long and tiring grind.”

Davis offered to work with specific partners who were unhappy that their programs would only be running four days per week, offering to help them find a place for the program to run on that fifth day, or “problem-solve” to reach a solution.

Cohen said partners were also expressing dismay at the four-day schedule, when normally they’d run a five-day program. He added that for city youth, “school represents a sanctuary and a safe place to be, especially during the summer, where we see a rise and a peak in violence impacting our children.”

Keeping schools open five days a week over the summer would give school programming partners “autonomy” to decide whether they wanted to run their programs all five days, Cohen said.

Debra Brooks, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success (MOCFS), said her office is working closely with the schools and other programming partners for Baltimore’s youth over the summer. They are also engaging students to find out what kinds of programs they would enjoy to create programming that would attract the city’s youth.

“We are strategically and intentionally meeting with our young people in our middle and our high schools next week as we stand up summer programming for our young people to include those Fridays and Saturdays,” Brooks said.

Cohen expressed appreciation for engaging young people in shaping the programming, but also was concerned about students who wouldn’t necessarily avail themselves of those rec center opportunities.

“So, I will again ask city schools if we can reverse that decision and provide autonomy for school-based sites to determine whether it makes sense for them to stay open,” Cohen repeated.

Davis promised to bring the matter up, but reiterated that the retention is also part of the equation.

“We have to retain our best school leaders,” Davis said. “We have to retain our school-based staff, and a few Fridays off has gone over well with them.”

Cohen said in a press release that “City Schools are a key part of our public safety ecosystem. For many kids, school is a sanctuary. The school system needs to ensure that summer program providers have the tools to operate with the same urgency that our educators provide during the school year.”

In a statement provided to Baltimore Fishbowl, Cohen’s office said he is concerned about the addition of the mayor’s enforcement of a curfew for those under 17, as it “feels like students are being constrained on both sides, limiting daytime opportunities while also restricting movement in the evening,” and that compounds the urgency of the issue for Cohen.

Brooks and Davis have not responded to Baltimore Fishbowl‘s requests for comment as of this article’s publication.

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