Mother Nature's Year-Round Schools?

January 19, 1994

Climatologists have been warning us that the past four or five winters have been uncharacteristically mild. Now we understand what they were talking about.

Since the start of this new year, successive days of snow, sleet, freezing rain and frigid temperatures have made a shambles of the Carroll County Board of Education calendar. Bad weather had closed Carroll's schools for four days through yesterday and shortened them on at least two others. The number of snow days built into the calendar has been exhausted, which means the school year must be extended to meet the state mandate of 180 school days unless the county receives a waiver from the state. If things continue at this clip through the rest of the winter, students may be rehearsing for Fourth of July pageants in their schools.

Considering this year's experience, the school board made the correct decision recently to begin the 1994-95 school year before Labor Day. On average, weather has closed Carroll's schools nearly four days in each of the past 10 years, according to Superintendent R. Edward Shilling. Last year, because the number of snow days exceeded the average, the school year did not end until June 24. School administrators have their fingers crossed that there won't be a repeat this year.

As of yesterday, this year had already exceeded the 10-year average. But even if the Arctic winds and blizzard conditions persist, this school year should still conclude by the third week of June.

The board is building three snow days into next year's school calendar, as it did this year. But is three snow days going to be enough? Ironically, the school board put the finishing touches on the calendar the Wednesday before the latest onslaught of winter storms. It now appears that three days may be half as many as needed. By the time Punxatawney Phil pops up his head on Groundhog Day, we'll know for sure.

The bad weather has not affected just the school calendar; for many elementary school children, outdoor play has become a distant memory as playgrounds have been snowed in and iced up. Instead of burning up energy playing dodge ball in gym class, students have to settle for quiet indoor play -- a poor substitute for the vigorous exercise kids need.

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