Grasmick allowed to waive two school days

Decision comes as area is warned of more snow

February 26, 2003|By Laura Loh and Frank D. Roylance | Laura Loh and Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Even as another snowstorm headed toward Maryland, the state school board gave its superintendent yesterday the authority to shorten the academic year by two days to help local school systems make up time lost to last week's record-setting snowstorm.

Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she would waive days lost Feb. 18 and Wednesday on a case-by-case basis. The waivers will go to school systems that have used up their snow makeup days and are having trouble meeting the state minimum of 180 instructional days.

She also may allow schools to open on Good Friday, Easter Monday and Memorial Day, which are mandated holidays.

Most schools in Maryland were closed all of last week. But Grasmick balked at more than a two-day waiver, saying she wanted to "preserve the most instructional time that we can for our students."

To win the waiver, school systems will have to show they planned some snow days, modified their calendars to make up additional days and extended their original closing dates by five days.

Grasmick said she would work with each of the 24 school systems to find solutions. "I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that we don't have additional storms," she added.

Even as she spoke, forecasters warned that more snow was expected in a pair of storm systems due to arrive late today and tomorrow.

Tomorrow's snow "has the potential to be either a minor or a moderate storm, but it does not look like a big blizzard," said Chris Strong of the National Weather Service forecast center in Sterling, Va.

Forecasters called for perhaps an inch this afternoon and tonight as the first and weaker of the two storm systems moves through.

Accumulations from the second, stronger storm, arriving tomorrow, will depend on its track.

"The early estimates are in the neighborhood of 4 to 8 inches across Baltimore and Washington, with a potential for several inches more than that," said Accuweather meteorologist John D. McGee. "There's also a potential for less than that."

Forecasters expected to get a better handle on snow amounts by today. Whatever happens, said Strong, "it's not going to be a foot and a half to 2 feet like it was last time."

That will come as a relief to school systems trying to decide whether they would seek waivers from the state, rearrange their calendars, or do both.

Some are considering tacking days onto the end of the year, shortening spring breaks or having students come in on days previously scheduled for teacher training. Here's a breakdown:

Baltimore County has used three snow days beyond those built into the calendar. Officials will reserve a decision because winter isn't over, spokesman Charles A. Herndon said.

Baltimore City school officials are considering seeking a waiver and opening schools on teacher training days to make up five lost snow days, spokeswoman Edie House said.

Howard County, which has added five days to the end of the school year, probably will seek the two-day waiver to take care of half the remaining four-day deficit, said spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

Harford County, which likely will make up snow days on teacher training days in April, also plans to seek a waiver.

Anne Arundel County, which needs to make up four days, one of which likely will come out of spring break, had not made a decision yesterday.

Carroll County schools have used four more snow days than those they built into the school calendar. Officials there are considering several options: requesting the two-day waiver; asking the state to waive more days; revoking students' days off for Easter Monday and Memorial Day; and extending the school year.

Grasmick said that extending the year would be a hardship in some systems. Baltimore, for example, is scheduled to end June 24, well into the hot-weather season. "In systems where we don't have air conditioning, temperature becomes a huge issue," she said.

Ronald A. Peiffer, an assistant state superintendent, said schools might be able to use early closings on hot days, which would still count toward the 180-day requirement.

Grasmick also received the go-ahead to waive an additional day for Garrett County, which has received more than 200 inches of snow this winter and missed 14 days because of snow and ice storms. The school system had obtained permission to open schools on Presidents Day, but was prevented from opening by the snowstorm.

It has been an extraordinary winter. Even a minor snowfall - as little as an inch today and tomorrow - would make this the second-snowiest winter on record in Baltimore.

The total for this season stood yesterday at 51.1 inches. That's a tie for third place with the winter of 1898-1999, and poised to exceed the 51.8 inches that fell in the winter of 1963-1964.

It would take 11 1/2 inches of new snow to bury the all-time Baltimore record of 62 1/2 inches established in 1995-1996.

February 2003 is the snowiest February since the first official snow tallies in Baltimore during the winter of 1883-1884. Thirty-six inches had fallen through yesterday.

But even though it has cost the state's schoolchildren many hours of instruction, the February snows and record rains last weekend have been a blessing for the city's water supplies, still recovering from last year's drought. More than 7 billion gallons of water ran off into the region's three reservoirs in the wake of the storm. That boosted the water supplies from 67 percent of capacity, to 77 percent in four days. Normal reserves for February are 81 percent.

The low water levels are the reason Baltimore's water customers remained under Level One water use restrictions this week, even as rain and melting snow threatened flooding.

Sun staff writers Tricia Bishop, Jennifer McMenamin, Jonathan D. Rockoff, Ted Shelsby and Tanika White contributed to this article.

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