For pupils with livestock at fair, early school opening is problem HARFORD COUNTY

August 31, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer Staff writer Eric Nelson contributed to this article.

Harford County public schools welcomed back students yesterday but some pupils decided to show off their livestock at the Maryland State Fair instead of meeting new teachers in the classroom.

For Matthew Edie, 10, there was no choice between the first day of school and showing his two Polled Hereford cows at the fairgrounds in Timonium.

"I wanted to be here and I needed to be here with my animals," said the fifth-grader at Norrisville Elementary School, while stroking the head of his 1,200-pound cow Victoria as her calf, Victor, fidgeted next to her.

For the first time ever, schools in the county opened before Labor Day, overlapping the fair and forcing 4-H Club participants to choose between attending school and the fair, which runs through Saturday.

Everything -- from bus pickups and drop-offs to the opening of the Fountain Green Elementary School has gone very smoothly, Deputy Superintendent Albert F. Seymour said yesterday.

"It's as if we were never on vacation. There were no problems."

It's unclear how many of Harford's 35,000 students decided to participate in the fair. Mr. Seymour said in the northern part of the county, where farming predominates, about 25 students chose the fair over school.

Mr. Seymour said the school system would treat participation at the fair as an excused absence and allow students to make up the work.

But it's not just a question of making up homework, said Mike Doran, 17, a senior at North Harford High, whose cow and calf were in the stall next to Matthew's animals. He said choosing between the first day of his last year and the fair was a tough decision.

"I feel really bad missing the first three days of my senior year. I don't know who all of my teachers will be. I don't know where all my classes will be. This is not the best way to start the year," he said.

But there was no choice. "This is where you come to find out how good you really are," Mike said, pointing to the other cows.

Mike, who is the Harford president of the 4-H's Livestock Club, said he decided against showing pigs because then he also would miss Thursday and Friday. "I didn't want to miss the whole week of school," he said.

Wanda Edie, who slept at the fair Sunday night to be with her son Matthew, said the fair is the culmination of a year's worth of work.

"This is so important to the 4-H kids, it's so unfair to make them choose," she said.

The Board of Education decided in January that school would start yesterday and run through June 9.

Schools Superintendent Ray R. Keech said he wanted to start school early because a late closing interferes with vacation plans, student's attention begins to flag after Memorial Day and because it's cooler in August and the start of September than in June.

Yesterday, the temperature in Harford County exceeded 90 degrees, according to Aberdeen Proving Ground.

In Howard County, where school opened yesterday, officials weren't aware of any problems connected with students competing at the state fair, said school spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

But Judy Iager of Fulton said her son Mark, a senior at Atholton High School in Columbia, will miss the first week of school.

Instead, he will be at the fair, tending to his seven Holstein cows and calves, as well as to another eight or nine of his relatives' and neighbors' animals.

Mrs. Iager said scheduling problems have to be worked out between students and their administrators and teachers. She said conflicts have arisen in the past, and that school officials were more cooperative this year in accommodating Mark, 16, who showed the supreme champion among 4-H dairy cattle at this year's Howard County Fair.

"It used to be that agriculture was No. 1 in Maryland and they wouldn't dare start school while the state fair was going on," Mrs. Iager said.

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