Calendar clash in Harford Fair play: School calendar-makers need to find a solution that does not isolate 4-H'ers.

April 21, 1997

THERE ARE FEW, if any, good reasons to divide a community. Deciding how to fit two days into a public school calendar certainly is not one of them.

That seems to be what is occurring in Harford County, where dozens of supporters of the agricultural 4-H program attended a recent board meeting, complete with the bejeweled "Farm Queen" herself, to convince the board not to open the school year with the State Fair in mid-gallop.

The conflict isn't about this fall, when Labor Day is early enough so that schools can begin the first week of September after 4-H'ers wrap up at the fair in Timonium, a century-old tradition in Maryland. The problem arises in the subsequent fall, in 1998, when a late Labor Day (Sept. 7) forces Harford education officials to choose whether to open school early and overlap with the fair or risk running school deep into June '99, when kids' minds run more toward swimming than Socrates.

A 15-member calendar committee has recommended that the board begin school on the Thursday before Labor Day '98 to avoid that "June swoon" later on. Officials say 4-H'ers could get an excused absence in September, but that's a poor response because children shouldn't be put in a position of having to miss the opening of school.

Ironically, the calendar group was created a few years ago to foresee and fix the types of conflicts now arising with the 4-H'ers. Still, the process is getting in the way of a solution.

Because the county went to a two-year calendar cycle, it has extra time to solve such problems. And a problem it is. A school system that wants to push a positive message about inclusion and diversity undercuts that when it creates tension between farm families and new suburbanites, who have no vested interest in the fair. Also, a school spokesman quoted in the newspaper should not have singled out the "Jewish holidays" among the pressures to accommodate in building the calendar any more than singling out other religious observances.

The board is mandated by state law to have a plan for 180 days of instruction. Juggling two days, or 1.1 percent of that requirement, should not mean ignoring legitimate conflicts nor trampling a tradition that is disappearing quickly enough in suburbs such as Harford.

Pub Date: 4/21/97

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