Making up their minds about makeup days

School officials consider how to recoup snow time

April 25, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

In the wake of a rare Good Friday school day on which more than 40 percent of Carroll County students stayed home, county school officials are reconsidering the way they reschedule class time lost to snow days.

"We would think long and hard before we would recommend that we go to school on the Friday before Easter. If I had to do it again ... I'd recommend we extend the school year," Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said yesterday.

But school board President Susan G. Holt said she would not favor adding makeup days to the end of the school year. She attributed rampant absenteeism April 18 - countywide, about 12,000, or 42 percent of Carroll's 28,480 students, were not in school - to staff at schools who indicated that very little would occur instructionally on the makeup snow day.

"If a school was letting their community know that they're expecting kids to be in school and it would be business as usual, the kids were attending," she said. "If a school is saying, `Our teachers aren't going to be here,' ... it kind of sends the message that it doesn't matter if the kids are here either. Like a lot of things, it comes down to expectations.

"I know for a fact that some kids were greeted [at school last Friday] with, `Why are you here?' And I apologize to those kids," Holt added. "It was not at the majority of schools. But I know it happened."

Faced with making up five snow days beyond the four built into the school calendar, Carroll school board members decided to convert all three scheduled spring break days - April 17, April 18 (Good Friday) and Easter Monday - into school days. They also accepted from Maryland education officials a two-day waiver from a state requirement that districts have at least 180 days of school.

Data compiled this week show that on the first of the three revoked holidays, about 6.4 percent of county students were not in school.

That absentee rate skyrocketed to 42 percent the second day - 34.6 percent of elementary pupils, 45.4 percent of middle schoolers and 48.5 percent of high school students.

Absenteeism subsided Monday when 10.9 percent of the county's students were out. Attendance rates for the year show that on an average day 4.2 percent of elementary pupils are absent, 4.5 percent of middle schoolers are out and 5.2 percent of high school students are not in school.

Despite higher-than-expected absenteeism on the rescheduled days, Holt said she remains confident that the school board made the best of a bad situation in scheduling classes to make up snow days, adding that attendance probably would have been just as dismal Monday, June 16, if the school board had lengthened the school year instead. "We may even have had less students June 16," she said.

Ecker similarly speculated that more students would have skipped school if the board had chosen to make up a snow day on Memorial Day.

"Most parents are off on Memorial Day," the superintendent said. "So I wouldn't recommend Memorial Day because I think absenteeism would be worse."

Holt said she would like to see the school district build more snow days into the calendar or schedule more spring holidays, leaving the board "more latitude" to reschedule class time lost to snow.

She also suggested the school system re-evaluate conditions under which classes are called off for wintry weather.

Noting that major roads were clear and schools were ready to reopen within days of the February storm that dropped more than 28 inches of snow on the region, Holt said, "Looking back over the whole thing, some of those days we were off was because the secondary roads weren't clear. If we could come up with a plan that parents who live on those roads need to get [their] kids to the nearest open bus stop, maybe that would be a solution. ... But who wants to take the chance of getting a kid hurt because a parent made him walk to a bus stop?"

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