Educators seek solutions to snow days

Waiver an alternative to extension of academic year

`Not an easy thing'

Longer school day could be an option in some counties

January 30, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

With inclement weather cutting short some students' summer vacations, state education officials are considering whether to waive the required number of school days.

Ron Peiffer, spokesman for the Maryland Board of Education, said area superintendents are scheduled to meet with state officials at the end of this week, and will receive guidelines about how to waive the requirement that students receive 180 days of classroom instruction.

"For the most part, local school systems have been hesitant to apply for waivers, and they have been trying to work it out on their own," Peiffer said. "But this is relatively early in the winter to be running out of snow days."

According to the National Weather Service, up to 4 inches of snow are expected today in the Baltimore metropolitan area, along with freezing rain and as much as three-quarters of an inch of ice.

Under state regulations, school systems can apply for the waiver if several conditions are met, among them a state of emergency declaration by the governor. If granted a waiver by the Department of Education, a school system would be allowed to provide fewer days of instruction than the state requirement. The waivers are granted on a county-by-county basis.

In 1996, the state board reluctantly cut two days from the 180-day school calendar after severe winter storms caused districts to shut down. This year, the combination of flooding from Hurricane Floyd, last week's snowstorm, which resulted in Gov. Parris N. Glendening declaring a state of emergency, and the forecast of more bad weather has left school systems across the state crossing their fingers while preparing for the worst.

Edie House, a spokeswoman for Baltimore schools, said the system will apply for the waiver because of closings Tuesday and Wednesday. The system has used all three of the snow days built into its calendar but would like to be given a waiver for two, to keep in reserve for future storms, House said.

"Making up the days during spring break is not an automatic option for us because of union matters and other issues," House said. "It's not an easy thing to change the school calendar, because people have made plans."

Using Presidents Day

Charles A. Herndon, spokesman for Baltimore County schools, said officials have made provisions to extend the school year rather than apply for a waiver.

"Ever since 1996, when we had that big blizzard, we have provided for seven [inclement weather] days," said Herndon, whose system has used six of those seven days. "We want to be able to provide at least the minimum of school days to the students, so we are all hoping that any precipitation that may come will be cleared up by Monday."

Anne Arundel public schools spokeswoman Jane Doyle said an announcement is expected at the Board of Education meeting Wednesday about how the system will make up lost days. In Harford County, school spokesman Don Morrison said officials are hoping they don't have a repeat of the 1993-1994 school year, when they lost 15 days to inclement weather.

"Right now, we are using Feb. 21, which is Presidents Day, as the first makeup day," said Morrison, whose system allows for four inclement days and has used seven this school year. "It's tough, because Feb. 21 is a federal holiday and we will be in school. It's also a negotiated holiday for our 12-month employees, so we are going to have to come up with another day to give them."

Carey Gaddis, a spokeswoman for the Carroll County school system, said the school days will be lengthened to accommodate missed ones. "We tell parents at the beginning of the school year that, rather than extend the school year, we will extend the school day," Gaddis said. "We did polls that show parents prefer that, because what happens is if you tell parents that school is going to end a certain day and then it doesn't, it really creates a problem for some people."

No snow days built in

In Howard County, where the contract requires teachers to work 190 days, no snow days are built into the calendar. Instead, said Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for Howard schools, makeup days are tacked on at the end of the year.

Caplan said the school year is scheduled to end June 20, but officials are prepared to change that date to June 22 if necessary. Howard's students are among the last to get out for summer vacation.

"After that, the board will have to take a look and decide what to do," Caplan said. "We have the option of either lengthening the school day or going to the state and asking for the waiver."

Disrupting exam schedule

Adding to Howard's headache is the disruption of high school midterm exam schedules because of storms. Tests -- postponed because of last week's weather -- might have to be pushed back further.

"I told someone the other day that at this point I am ready to say to hell with it, give all the students A's," said Gene Streagle, director of high schools for Howard County. "That would make me pretty popular with students, but I don't think the teachers would be too happy."

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