Longer days or longer year? Snow makeup views divided

March 17, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore County parents and teachers made it clear last night that there is no one best solution to make up five "snow days" this school year.

The 23 people who spoke during an hourlong public hearing were split almost evenly between extending the school year and a longer school day.

A few speakers who suggested extending the school day wanted the longer hours split -- half in the morning and half in the afternoon.

Superintendent Stuart Berger's staff recommended last week that the school day be lengthened by 45 minutes from April 5 to May 31 rather than extending the school year a week, from June 17 to June 24.

The school board delayed a vote on the staff recommendation and scheduled last night's hearing to get public comment.

Ray Suarez, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, offered the only different plan. He suggested that the school day be extended 30 minutes during April and May, lessening somewhat the conflict between a longer day and after-school activities. The remaining time could be made up by changing four half-days during the last week of school into full days.

Several speakers preferred not making up the days, saying that none of the alternatives was good for the quality of instruction.

Anne DiPietro, a seventh-grader at Catonsville Middle School, was the only student to speak during the swift and orderly hearing. She told school officials that 20 minutes in the morning and 25 minutes in the afternoon was the best solution.

Afterward, however, she said many of her friends "just want to call it a year" and forget making up the days.

Wade Kerns, a middle school teacher and coach, preferred a longer day to an extra week of school.

"As a teacher who has lived through the last week of school with 130 middle school students, I think we would be better served by extending the day," he said.

Sharon Young, the mother of three elementary school students, favored the extra week, saying she thought it was better for instruction and safety.

"My children are bus riders. I don't want them out there in rush hour," she said.

Three county school bus drivers agreed that taking children home in rush-hour traffic presented "unique safety problems." Some county elementary schools do not dismiss classes until 3:40 p.m., meaning a longer day would keep children at school until nearly 4:30 p.m.

"The elementary school children would be on their way home as the peak [rush-hour traffic] hits," said driver John Gerber. "Forty-five minutes puts drivers and children in a more dangerous time frame."

Deputy Superintendent Anthony Marchione said last night's even split on ways to make up the snow days mirrors the "hundreds" of calls, letters and faxes he has received on the subject.

"The split is about the same, with the 45 minutes leading slightly. That is what is so uncanny," he said.

County schools were closed 12 days this winter. The calendar included two extra days, and students made up one day in February and will make up four days this month during what was to have been spring break.

The board will decide the issue at its 8 p.m. meeting Tuesday at the Ruxton School, 6901 N. Charles St.

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