Snow days leave schools in tough spot State forces localities to add makeup dates or extend usual hours

'It's horrendous'

Board also approves scheduling of classes on legal holidays

January 31, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Howard Libit, John Rivera and Andrea Siegel contributed to this article.

To make up time lost to the blizzard, the State Board of Education opened the door to longer school days yesterday -- a scheduling change that disrupted families and classrooms for months in 1994.

Rejecting Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick's recommendation to cut two days from the school calendar, the board forced localities to add makeup days or extend the regular school day.

In the Baltimore area, most school systems have not decided how to make up the missed school time. But some school officials recalled the problems with extended days, which played havoc with day care arrangements, after-school jobs, athletic schedules and sleep.

"It made for some very long days," said Donald Mohler, spokesman for Baltimore County schools.

Under the board's decision, students would not have to go to school for the state-mandated 180 days. But they would have to attend for 1,080 hours -- the equivalent of 180 six-hour days.

The board also allowed schools to be in session on legal holidays, such as Presidents Day -- which many systems already have eliminated -- and Memorial Day.

Baltimore has requested permission to lengthen school days by 15 minutes to make up the three snow days not built into the calendar, said city schools spokesman Nat Harrington.

Dr. Grasmick told the board that other systems were "poised and ready to do that."

Lengthening school days was a popular antidote to extending the school year in 1994, when ice storms ruined school schedules.

But it wasn't without drawbacks. "Everybody's tired," one Baltimore County high school teacher said at the end of 40 days that has been extended by 45 minutes apiece.

Many educators, parents and students -- who were riding buses in the dark at both ends of the day -- agreed that there was little educational gain for a lot of disruption. Area school systems added 30 to 50 minutes, which some divided among seven class periods. Some schools reportedly used the time for longer recesses and extended free-reading periods.

Mr. Mohler said that Baltimore County is sticking with its plan to add the necessary six days to the end of the school year.

Howard County's school system will not lengthen its school day unless it has to close two or more additional days. Howard students will attend school a week later than scheduled, until June 18, but the board has set June 19 as the final day of school and approved lengthening school days if more time is needed.

Anne Arundel County has only two days to make up, which it will do by opening on Presidents Day and cutting a day from spring break.

Dr. Grasmick said her office had not finished compiling the number of days each of the state's 24 districts needs to make up, "but it's horrendous in every district. They are going to be challenged to make up the time with any kind of a reasonable day."

In other action, the board stood firm in its resolve to improve the 37 troubled schools targeted for a possible state takeover. Thirty-five of those schools are in Baltimore; the others are in Anne Arundel and Somerset counties.

"I don't want to take even a baby step backward," said board Vice President Chris Grant. "If we don't think we have the resources [to help these schools], then we better go to the people in Annapolis who have the checkbooks."

Board members agreed that when they created the plan to take over failing schools, they did not envision having nearly three dozen in one year in one system. Two years ago, the state identified two city schools for reconstitution and last year added three more.

But board members said they could not abandon the 25,000 students who attend the 37 failing schools.

"I think it would be shameful for us to retreat because we are overwhelmed," said Walter Sondheim.

The board stressed that it expects the city to meet a March 15 deadline for submitting reform proposals, including a broad plan to fix common problems.

"We cannot address this situation on a school-by-school-by-school basis," Mr. Grant said.

The state education department is advertising for independent contractors to work in the reconstituted schools to improve management and administration in such areas as staff training, student assessment and budgeting. The department also intends to advertise for companies to manage one or more schools.

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