Sorry, kids: Snow day cuts spring break

February 27, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

While Baltimore County students and teachers slept late on Friday, a chunk of their spring vacation disappeared in a puff of snow.

Just hours before the storm began, the county school board chopped two days from the middle of the April break in a series of last-minute calendar changes brought on by snow closings, budget cuts and state mandates.

With Friday on the books as this year's second snow-closing day, here's the drift of what the board did to compensate:

*The snow days will be made up on Monday and Tuesday, April 5 and 6, the first two weekdays of what had been a weeklong spring holiday. The vacation will now begin Wednesday, April 7, and last through April 12. Unless, of course, there are more snow days. If there are, spring break will get even shorter.

Under Maryland law, the break can't disappear entirely. The statutes require that schools be closed Good Friday, which is April 9, and Easter Monday, April 12.

*School will close for the year on June 18, two days early. This is part of a package deal the board proposed after it was ordered to cut $6 million from this year's budget by County Executive Roger B. Hayden. Negotiators for teachers and other unions have tentatively agreed to a small pay cut in exchange for the days off, though union members still have to vote on the issue.

*March 10 will remain as a professional development day, with teachers working but students out of school. When the board met Thursday night, it had hoped to schedule classes that day and leave the spring break intact, but the snowstorm and Friday's closing scotched that plan.

The decision to cut out the middle of the break, which otherwise would have freed teachers and students at the end classes on Friday, April 2, is likely to elicit some icy responses, especially for those with travel plans.

One elementary school teacher, who asked not to be identified, called the decision "insane." "People have planned for Easter vacation. Teachers are people, too. Apparently, they [board members] don't think that. It's the worst possible choice," she said.

Spring break is one of the peak times for family travel, according to those in the business. "The weeks before and after Easter are very busy," said Marcie Giffin of Towson Travel.

The most popular destination for families is Disney World, and those packages are "easily booked six months in advance for Easter," said Tara Partlow, manager of the Parkville office of Travel Agents International. "They book the whole package -- airfare, hotel, rental car -- and usually all of that is pre-paid and nonrefundable."

Some companies do offer travelers' protection insurance, she said, but that applies only to medical and legal emergencies that interfere with travel.

She said she doubts that canceled vacations would entitle school-trapped travelers to a refund.

Families who have nonrefundable airline tickets can, of course, keep their kids out of school. But teachers with travel plans won't have it so easy.

They are prohibited by contract from taking personal leave days "immediately preceding or following a holiday except by special permission." Nor can they use sick leave adjacent to holidays without a doctor's verification of illness.

The contract does, however, provide for five days for religious holidays, and the Jewish holiday of Passover begins at sundown April 5.

In proposing the calendar changes, Superintendent Stuart Berger acknowledged the problems of cutting into the weeklong spring break. "But because of the two days [off] at the end, we have no where to turn," he said.

"The other option, and I think it's a long shot," he told the board, is to ask State Superintendent of Education Nancy Grasmick to waive the required 180 school days for this year. The board, however, dismissed that idea.

"I suspect there's going to be lots of problems" with the interrupted spring break, said Louis Sergi, principal of Towson High School. A group of Towson students, for instance, has planned a trip to Spain that week with faculty members as chaperones.

It is not a school-sponsored event, however, so the school cannot excuse students or teachers.

Baltimore County's original calendar had 182 pupil days, two more than the state requires. Everything was OK until Feb. 11, when the board approved the plan to shorten the school year by two days to save money.

Had the weather cooperated, that plan might have worked out with exactly 180 school days.

But schools were closed for snow Feb. 16 and again Friday. With the two days chopped off the end of the year to save money, the school calendar would have melted down to 178 days without some action.

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