2 days cut from school calendars Maryland Board of Education reverses stance

'One-time type of thing'

More changes due for already complex academic schedules

February 28, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Howard Libit, Sherrie Ruhl, Marego Athans and Anne Haddad contributed to this article.

Reversing an earlier decision, the state Board of Education reluctantly cut two days from this year's 180-day school calendar yesterday to help winter-weary school systems account for time lost to bad weather.

But the waiver did not come without a stern warning.

"It seems to me that a message ought to go forth from the board that we have to be more realistic in putting together calendars," said board member Harry D. Shapiro. "We all know that 180 days is inadequate and now we're shortening it even more."

Board members also wanted school systems to know that they are not setting a precedent. "We have to somehow make the message clear that this is a one-time type of thing," said Edward Andrews, one of two board members who opposed the waiver. The board waived two school days for six counties in 1993.

The board's action will change an already complicated set of schedules for area schools. School calendars vary greatly in the number of emergency days allowed each year. This school year, Baltimore and Calvert counties had the fewest, with two, and Howard County had the most, with seven.

This discrepancy, particularly between adjoining jurisdictions, such as Howard and Baltimore counties, perplexed board members. "That's not based on meteorological data," added board President Christopher Cross, lamenting the "erosion" of instructional time.

The board rejected the waiver last month in January when state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick first requested it but reconsidered yesterday after seeing individual county makeup plans.

Most school systems have already added days to the term in June, as they scrambled to make up for time lost by closings and late openings during this winter.

But educators generally agree that classroom time in June, when the weather is hot and vacation near, is not of the same quality as that earlier in the year.

Although school officials around the area cheered the state board's waiver, most are taking a wait-and-see attitude before adjusting calendars again.

In addition to the two-day reduction, Harford County officials received approval yesterday to count hours rather than days toward the state requirement. Because Harford students usually already normally go to school more than the required six hours a day, they will finish the term June 14, only one day later than planned, despite missing 10 days this year, said Harford schools' spokesman Donald Morrison.

Howard County school administrators don't know yet what they will do with the two-day waiver.

"We'll look at our options again and then decide what to recommend to the [school] board," said schools' spokeswoman Patti Caplan. Originally scheduled to close June 11, Howard schools now are due to shut June 19.

Carroll County school officials said they, too, will wait, until the threat of snow has passed. Carroll has missed nine days. Six have been absorbed into the regular calendar -- three built in and three days of sacrificed vacation and teacher training. The remaining three will be made up with extended hours in the spring instead of extra days in June.

Carroll Superintendent Brian Lockard said his staff will consider how to use the waiver of two days by the state before making a recommendation to the board.

Anne Arundel County school officials say they will need a clarification on the waiver before they can decide what to recommend to their school board. The issue is not just how many days of school but how many hours, said Lou Apuzzio, chairman of the calendar committee.

High school students are required to attend 1,170 hours within a period of 180 days, he said. Only 1,080 days are required for lower grades.

Because of delayed openings and an early dismissal, Anne Arundel high school students would fall 12 hours short of the requirement if school closes as scheduled on June 11.

The waiver will mean that Baltimore County high school students will be out for summer vacation at the same time as middle and elementary schools, officials there said. The county plans to close June 14, one week later than scheduled at the beginning of the year.

In Baltimore, spokeswoman Robyn Washington said the two-day waiver might gain city students one day of vacation. The city situation is complicated by a special congressional election April 16, for which schools are scheduled to be closed.

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