Snow day opinions inundate schools

More than 1,200 weigh in on making up class time

Board considers five options

Carroll County

February 10, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

When Carroll County school officials invited the public to weigh in on ways to make up this year's extra snow days, they tentatively set last Friday as the deadline for accepting suggestions.

But the mail has kept rolling in.

By the close of business yesterday, the school system had received 1,235 e-mails, faxes and letters from school employees, parents, students and others with an interest in how the district recoups lost class time. The influx persuaded school officials to extend the deadline to 4 p.m. tomorrow, one hour before school board members are scheduled to meet to discuss the issue.

In soliciting opinions, however, school officials want to be clear: This is not a democratic process.

"We are trying to stress to people that it's not a vote," said Carey Gaddis, a school system spokeswoman. "A lot of people have responded, `I vote for ... ' and that's not what this is about. It's getting community input."

With 39 days of winter remaining, administrators already have canceled classes eight times for inclement weather, leaving students with three snow days to make up.

Schools were closed Sept. 19, the day after Tropical Storm Isabel swept through Maryland; Sept. 23, when torrential rains left many Carroll roads under water; and Dec. 5, when the season's first snowstorm blanketed much of the region.

Students had less than two days of school during the week of Jan. 26, when snow and ice canceled classes three times in a row and delayed school by two hours on a fourth day. And officials closed schools two days last week, Feb. 3 and Feb. 6, because of sleet, freezing rain and ice - or the threat of such wintry precipitation.

Four snow days were built into this year's school calendar, but 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.

To make up the extra days, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said the school board could:

Ask the State Board of Education to approve opening county schools on state-ordered public school holidays, including Presidents Day (Monday), Good Friday (April 9), Easter Monday (April 12) and Memorial Day (May 31).

Open schools on county-scheduled vacation days, including Feb. 17, which was designated as a professional day for elementary and middle schools and a conference day for high schools; and April 8, the first day of spring break.

Ask Maryland's school board to allow a lengthening of the school day.

Extend the school year beyond June 11, the scheduled last day of classes.

Ask the state school board to waive additional days.

Among the more than 1,200 people who already have shared their opinions with the school system, the most popular options (in this order) have been: opening schools Feb. 17, converting the first day of spring break (April 8) into a school day and holding classes on Presidents Day, Gaddis said.

School principals, in particular, have expressed support for converting next week's holidays into school days, Ecker said.

"We've missed a lot of time. Some principals requested that we go to school on Monday and Tuesday to provide some instructional time prior to the Maryland School Assessment," the schools chief said, referring to state tests in reading and math. This year's tests are scheduled for Feb. 25 through March 5.

Other respondents, however, have implored administrators not to cancel next week's holidays, emphasizing that they have already made plans for the days off.

"We've had some e-mails and people have started calling who have anything from tickets to dentist appointments for their children and are concerned," Gaddis said.

Faced with making up five snow days last year, school officials asked for similar input and received suggestions from 1,300 people. The most popular options then were converting spring break days - other than Good Friday and Easter Monday - into school days and asking the state school board to waive missed days.

The board decided to convert all three scheduled spring break days, including Good Friday and Easter Monday, into school days and accepted from Maryland education officials a two-day waiver.

Whatever the board decides to do this year, Ecker said he is well aware of the bind in which he and board members find themselves each winter.

"Any day you make up will be difficult for some people," he said. "Really, there are no good options."

Comments can be submitted by e-mail to feedback@k12. carr.org, by fax to 410-751-3030 and by mail to Carroll County Public Schools, Community and Media Relations, 125 N. Court St., Westminster 21157.

The board is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. tomorrow at the school system's administrative offices on North Court Street in Westminster.

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