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AG’s office: Court ‘likely’ would rule Hogan’s school order overreached

Gov. Larry Hogan announcing his executive order last month in Ocean City. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Gov. Larry Hogan announcing his executive order last month in Ocean City. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — A Maryland court “likely” would find that Gov. Larry Hogan exceeded his authority by using an executive order to require public schools to start after Labor Day, chief counsel to the Maryland attorney general wrote Friday, but he stopped short of saying “unequivocally” that the governor’s order went too far.

Adam Snyder, chief counsel of opinions and advice for the attorney general, expressed that view in a 24-page letter to two Maryland lawmakers, Del. Anne Kaiser, D-Montgomery, and Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, who had requested an opinion.

Snyder wrote that Hogan’s order purports to direct state and local boards on the topic of the school calendar. That, Snyder found, likely falls within the power of the state education board’s authority over educational policy and public school administration. He wrote that Maryland’s highest court has found that power to be “comprehensive” and “exclusive.”

“In the absence of controlling judicial precedent discussing the interplay between the governor’s executive authority and the state board’s visitatorial powers, I cannot say unequivocally that the Labor Day executive order exceeds the governor’s authority, but I believe it likely that a reviewing court, if presented with the issue, would conclude that it does,” Snyder wrote.

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for the Republican governor, questioned political motivations behind the letter. Attorney General Brian Frosh is a Democrat, and the General Assembly is controlled by Democrats.

“Even by lawyer standards, taking 24 pages to reach a ‘I don’t know’ is unprecedented,” Mayer wrote in an email. “The Assistant Attorney General’s unsolicited prediction of a hypothetical court case seems more politically-influenced than an opinion based on legal precedence.”

Mayer added: “The Attorney General’s office has a lot of political opinions and we agree with almost none of them, including this halfhearted one.”

Pinsky said that while Snyder couldn’t “unequivocally” say the governor had overstepped, the senator said Snyder’s findings gave the state’s 24 school boards strong grounds for ignoring the executive order, and that’s what the senator is urging them to do.

“Then, it’s on the governor to say, does he want to continue to meddle in the work of the 24 locally-authorized school systems,” Pinsky said.

On a separate matter, Snyder wrote that the General Assembly may enact legislation to override the effect of Hogan’s executive order.

The change would take effect next year, and it would still require public schools to complete the 180 days stipulated under state law. Supporters say the later start would boost tourism and increase family time. But opponents say it shortchanges education.