Added day attracts few fans

Absence: Many students and teachers skipped the snow makeup day yesterday and started spring break as they had originally planned.

April 15, 2003|By Jessica Valdez | Jessica Valdez,SUN STAFF

Barbara M. Dandridge, Caught between a mandate to attend an extra day of school yesterday and the lure of carefree spring vacations, Howard County students and teachers struggled and many succumbed.

Schools found 20 percent to 50 percent of their students absent on a Monday, a weekday that rarely sees an absentee rate greater than 10 percent, said Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for Howard County public schools.

Students were not the only ones eager to begin their spring breaks. More than 660 teachers were absent yesterday, compared with an average of 300 to 350 for a normal Monday. That is about 17 percent of all county teachers.

"We have never had such a high number," Caplan said.

Monday was originally scheduled as the first day of spring break. But after the Howard school system lost 10 days to snow this winter, the school board voted to shorten the spring vacation by a day to make up for one of the snow days.

But that decision did not stop families from leaving town and taking their children with them.

"Understandably, people had vacations planned before spring break," Caplan said.

Classrooms across the county were filled with empty seats. At Mount Hebron High School, 41 percent of the students were missing.

"They're a high school, and if I were to speculate, I would say we'd see higher numbers [of absences] at the high school level," Caplan said. Parents don't always know if the high school students really go to school, she said.

Only five of 31 students showed up for River Hill High School teacher Lisa Kump's speech class. "My speech class is mainly seniors who think it's not cool to go to class," she said.

A lot of seniors had college visits or vacations scheduled before they knew about the additional school day, she added.

One-third of River Hill's 1,650 students were missing, according to Assistant Principal Barbara M. Dandridge.

"A lot of the parents had vacations planned, and the students had to go along with their parents," she said.

River Hill sophomore Nick Keane was left behind by his vacationing parents. His assignment, he said, was baby-sitting his younger brothers and sisters. It was a chore that he used to justify his absence from school.

"He didn't show up for school today. He just showed up for track," freshman Katie Farhang said of Nick. "Besides, who wants to go to school?"

Some students, like River Hill sophomore Rob Chew, showed up only because his parents made him go to school.

"Like more than half [of the students] were absent," he said. "We didn't do anything in class today."

He had two words for students who wanted to come to school: "They're losers."

River Hill freshmen Michelle McCoy and Michele Meier said they enjoyed their school day, which they said featured movies and socializing.

River Hill administrators said they planned more than a week in advance to accommodate the many teacher absences. "People who were going to be out we knew about last week," Dandridge said. If the school could not find a substitute teacher for a class, then other teachers took over during their planning periods.

Across the county, schools also used instructional assistants or administrators to help cover the 162 positions that were not filled by substitutes, Caplan said.

"It was anticipated so most of the schools had time to make accommodations," she said of the teacher shortage. "Really, everything was running the way it usually does."

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