Weather threatens academic calendar

Schools again in peril of using up snow days

Carroll County

January 27, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

With 6 inches of fresh snow on the ground yesterday morning, Carroll County school officials canceled classes and used the third of four snow days built into the school calendar.

The winter storm also delayed moving day at North Carroll Middle School, which was supposed to be closed yesterday and today to give staff time to empty the first wing of the building that is scheduled to be renovated. Most of the school's teachers must pack up their classrooms and move into nearby portable classrooms or other wings of the 48-year-old school.

The school's staff needs two days to make the switch. Unsure what this week's weather will bring, county school officials have made plans only through Thursday on how to schedule the move.

If county schools are open today, classes will be canceled at North Carroll Middle today and tomorrow for the start of the $18.2 million modernization project. If county schools are closed today because of inclement weather, North Carroll Middle will close tomorrow and Thursday so teachers can move.

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said he intended to wait for the recommendation of his transportation staff - who hit the roads at 3 a.m. whenever meteorologists predict inclement weather - before deciding whether to open schools today.

By yesterday afternoon, the schools chief said he suspected classes would be canceled.

Playing it safe

"It looks like we're going to have three in a row," he said. "If we get that ice they're talking about, Lord, that's the worst kind of weather. If we err, we want to err on the side of safety."

Administrators already have closed county schools four times since August because of inclement weather - Sept. 19, the day after Tropical Storm Isabel swept through Maryland; Sept. 23, when torrential rains left many Carroll roads underwater; Dec. 5, when the season's first snowstorm blanketed much of the region; and yesterday.

The State Board of Education decided in September to waive one of the 180 days required of public schools, noting that all Maryland schools were closed Sept. 19 in Isabel's wake.

With only one remaining snow day in the calendar and 52 days of winter left, school officials know the odds are not good.

"July 4 looks like it will be a good make-up day," Ecker quipped yesterday.

If the school system uses more than one more snow day, school board members will have to decide how to make up the missed time. Among the options they may consider are extending the school year, lengthening the school day and sending students to class on days previously designated for staff development, teacher planning or county or state school holidays.

Weighing the options

Last year, faced with making up five snow days beyond the four built into the calendar, board members decided to convert all three scheduled spring break days, including Good Friday, 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.

But when about 12,000 students, or 42 percent of Carroll's 28,480 schoolchildren, stayed home anyway on Good Friday, Ecker said he would be unlikely to make a similar recommendation again. He suggested that adding days to the end of the school year would have been better.

"There's no doubt about it, none of the options are good," he said yesterday. "Good Friday turned out to not be a good option last year because almost 50 percent of the kids stayed home. ... I'm hopeful there will be some options that are better than others, but there will be disadvantages to making up any days."

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