Decision to begin school during fair survives protests Complaint that Aug. 30 start date is unfair to 4-H'ers doesn't sway board HARFORD COUNTY

February 03, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

It's unthinkable, the parents said, making 4-H youngsters choose between the first week of school and the Maryland State Fair.

In Harford County, where some 2,000 students participate in 4-H events, infuriated parents demanded Monday night that the school board scrap plans to start next school year before Labor Day, just as the State Fair begins.

The board refused to reconsider its decision.

"Did you think about the effect the early opening would have on farmers in this county?" said William H. Amoss, the grandson of state Sen. William H. Amoss, D-District 35A.

Like other critics, Mr. Amoss said the board's move is an affront to Harford County's rural heritage and sends a message to young 4-H members that farming isn't important.

At Monday's meeting at Fallston High School, which drew about 100 people, some parents stood and shouted, "Answer the question! We need answers right now!" when board President Anne D. Sterling tried to halt questioning on the calendar change.

Some audience members stormed out of the meeting, complaining that board members failed to respond to their concerns.

One woman, who would not give her name, charged that the board had acted in secret when it voted in January on the early school opening.

In fact, the vote to start school Aug. 30 and end it June 9 came after lengthy public comment from 4-H members, students and parents.

The State Fair runs from Aug. 28 to Sept. 4 this year.

Next school year will mark the first time Harford schools open before Labor Day.

Jean Burke, a 4-H leader, said the early opening was unfair to her daughter.

"My daughter starts high school this year, but she is also active in the 4-H," Mrs. Burke said.

"It's unfair to ask her to choose between the first week of high school and the fair," she said.

One woman in the audience said the early opening jeopardized some parents' vacation plans.

"Many families put deposits on vacation rentals a year in advance and can't change their plans," she told the board.

Because of the controversy, Harford schools will start planning the school calendar at least two years in advance and perhaps as early as five years, school Superintendent Ray R. Keech told parents.

A visibly exasperated Mr. Keech told the audience he would take any "blame" for the decision to start school before Labor Day.

The superintendent has said 4-H students would not be penalized for skipping school to attend the fair but would have to make up missed work.

Mrs. Sterling and board member Ronald Eaton voted against starting the school year before Labor Day.

Mr. Keech said the calendar change was necessary to end the school year as close as possible to Memorial Day.

He said students become restless and difficult to teach after Memorial Day.

Also, many schools lack air conditioning and sometimes have to close early because of heat, he said.

Not everybody at Monday's meeting opposed the earlier opening. Some parents rolled their eyes at the calendar controversy and vigorously applauded Katie Chisholm, a Fallston High student, when she said she was happy to start school on Aug. 30.

"At the beginning of June, we are ready to get out of school," she said.

Most of the state's 24 school systems opened before Labor Day this school year.

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