With Carroll County planning a rare public school day on Good Friday to make up for snow days, administrators are bracing for least 15 percent absenteeism tomorrow among teachers - and perhaps even more absences by students.
More than 300 of the school district's 1,950 teachers had given notice by Tuesday afternoon - the most recent statistics available - that they plan to take the revoked spring vacation day as a personal day.
"The surprise is not the number of teachers taking off," said Stephen Guthrie, the school system's assistant superintendent of administration.
"If there's any surprise, it's that there are not more taking off. I'm also surprised that we were able to get as many people to substitute as we were. It speaks a lot to the dedication of our staff in the county."
Guthrie compared tomorrow's projected teacher absence rate to "a really nice Friday in the spring where we may have some professional activities going on for teachers."
"It's not an outrageous number," he said. "It's not a good number, not something we wouldn't have concerns over. But, certainly, it's a number we've seen before and are able to deal with."
By Tuesday afternoon, the system's automated substitute-finding system had filled all but 14 of those vacancies. With the school day shortened by a three-hour early dismissal, elementary and middle school principals indicated they could juggle their staffs to cover the 10 openings at their schools.
Department supervisors and directors who regularly work at the district's administrative offices in Westminster will be dispatched to fill remaining vacancies in high schools.
Additional vacancies that crop up also will be filled by administrators, Guthrie said. "The superintendent has said that all central office staff - and especially those with teaching backgrounds - should be here and prepared to go into classes, if needed," he said.
That serendipitous twist on classroom substitutes might soothe the sting among teachers who are grouchy about losing all three of their scheduled spring break days to recoup added snow days, a teachers union official said.
"That's never happened before here and it's something teachers have encouraged the school system to look at on a regular basis," said Hal Fox, who represents about 1,400 teachers in the Carroll County Education Association.
"It's good to keep administrators fresh because it's nice to be in the ivory tower and have lots of theories, but to actually sit in the classroom and teach, that's an entirely different thing," he added. "That might be the silver lining in this from the perspective of teachers."
Faced with the prospect of making up five snow days beyond the four built into the school calendar, Carroll school board members initially voted to revoke two of three spring break days scheduled today and Monday. They also asked the state to waive three days from Maryland's requirement that students have 180 days of instruction.
But when the state school board declined Carroll's request for a third waiver day, county school officials turned to their contingency plan to hold classes Good Friday, decided to dismiss students three hours early that day and reassured parents that students who stay home for religious observances will not be penalized.