A group of Howard County parents opposed to year-round schooling has launched a petition drive against a school schedule they say would destroy family life.
The Coalition Against Year-Round Education -- a 175-member RTC group of local businesses and parents -- wants to collect at least 1,000 signatures to demonstrate widespread opposition to the idea being studied by the school board and county government officials.
The drive comes at a time when school board members themselves say they oppose keeping schools open year-round, but are studying it as a backup in case they can't afford the construction projects necessary to accommodate the county's growing student population.
School officials expect 12,500 more students to enroll in the 36,000-pupil school system in the next 10 years.
"The Board of Education does not want to do year-round education," said chairwoman Susan Cook. "It's not something we feel will be beneficial to students.
"We will only do year-round education if the county executive and the County Council force our hand by not funding the projects. They're the ones holding the purse strings."
Under a year-round calendar, the two-month summer vacation would be shortened. Students would attend school on a staggered schedule to make use of school buildings throughout the year.
That means children in the same family could find themselves going to school at different times of the year, though they would share a brief summer and winter vacation.
"My main concern is with the family," said Heather Tepe, head of the coalition leading the petition drive. "I will not allow my access to my children to be limited to three weeks at a time during the year.
"I need the 2 1/2 months where I can pull my children out of the school system, pull them away from any peer groups . . . and teach them the lessons I want them to learn, not what the Board of Education wants them to learn," she said.
Howard was one of six school districts that won grants last year to study the implementation of year-round schools. Former Gov. William Donald Schaefer was an advocate of year-round schooling, which he saw as a way to hold down building costs in the face of rising enrollment.
The county school board got gloomy news on that front last week at a meeting with the County Council.
The school system has asked for $43 million to build new schools during the next fiscal year, but a financial review committee recommended that the county spend no more than $25 million on capital budget requests from all branches of county government next fiscal year.
The board has proposed spending about $300 million in the next 10 years to build, renovate and add to two dozen schools.
"If we do not get the money to build schools, then we have to put the students somewhere," Ms. Cook said. "It would be irresponsible of us not to have a plan in place to deal with the additional students."
She added: "The issue of year-round schools is not dead."
That's one of the reasons the coalition plans a countywide forum with speakers from districts where year-round education has failed. Parents say a school system forum two years ago, which featured two advocates of year-round schooling, showed only one side of the story.
"I felt like I had a job done on me by an experienced used car salesman," Ms. Tepe said. "These folks were very obviously giving one side of the issue, and we want to show the other side."
The parents have not yet scheduled a date for the forum.
Ms. Cook said the school system plans to have a similar forum, but has not scheduled it yet.
In the meantime, school officials have committees studying the impact of year-round education on such areas as day care, grades and scheduling.
In the spring, they plan to develop an outline on paper of how a year-round schedule would operate in Howard County.