As snow days pile up, schools in Howard fear scheduling mess

January 07, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

The four days that Howard County public schools have been closed because of inclement weather have been added to the end of the school year. Instead of getting out June 12, students' last day of school is now June 18.

Two more such closures could end up affecting spring break.

"We have five [snow] days indicated on the calendar," schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said. "If we go to six days, we'll need to go back to the Board of Education for a decision."

Schools must provide 180 days of instruction. When weather forces closings, those days are added to the end of the year of the school year - up to June 19. After that date, the school board must decide whether to continue to extend the year or find makeup days elsewhere, including during the six days of spring break children have in April.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions mischaracterized the snow-day policy for Howard County public schools. The county has planned to add up to five days to the school year if classes are canceled because of inclement weather; four days have been added so far.
The Sun regrets the error.

"We tried that a couple of years ago and found it was really very confusing to families as well as staff," Caplan said.

School board Chairwoman Sandra H. French said that, if necessary, the sixth day likely would be made up at the end of the school year along with the first five.

"The question is what to do after that point," French said. "We would look for the superintendent's guidance. In the event of a hardship, we could ask for a waiver from the state board, but they're usually very reluctant to grant waivers. They want us to have those 180 days of instruction."

The decision to close or delay school starts about 3:30 a.m., when transportation staff members bundle up and hit the streets to check driving conditions.

"It can vary greatly from one part of the county to another," Caplan said. "Even if your streets look really good, that doesn't mean somewhere else is not icy and very slick."

Sometimes, such as yesterday, schools will make one decision to delay the opening but change it to a closure upon further examination. This happens for several reasons, Caplan said. Staff members may have been expecting particular roads to be clear by a certain point and that doesn't happen, or weather reports may indicate worse conditions on the way.

"We like to err on the side of safety," Caplan said.

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