Snow spurs school closures

As kids play, the rest pray

Parents, officials hope no more classes will have to be canceled

March 08, 2007|By Gina Davis and Ruma Kumar | Gina Davis and Ruma Kumar,SUN REPORTERS

Annapolis High School freshman Conner Toomey was getting ready for school yesterday when his father, just back from walking the dog, told him classes were canceled because of the light-but-steady snow that blanketed the area.

Conner, who was eager to break in the Nintendo Wii he received last week for his 15th birthday, welcomed the news. His mother wasn't so thrilled.

"The kids lose focus on what they are studying, especially in the back half of the year when the focus is on gearing up for HSAs," Pam Toomey said, referring to the High School Assessment tests required for graduation. "I think the less snow days we have, the better off we are."

And the snow day came with another price: Anne Arundel County students lost a day of summer vacation.

With the first day of spring less than two weeks away, school officials across the region have their eyes on the sky in hopes that they won't have to cancel classes again this year. Harford and Howard counties, along with Baltimore City schools, have already tacked on days to the end of the school year.

And with yesterday's closing, Anne Arundel County has now done the same.

Students there, who missed three days last month when that area was hard hit by ice, will now go to school until at least June 15.

As of yesterday evening, the storm that closed schools in counties surrounding Baltimore had dropped just under an inch at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, 1 1/2 inches in Baltimore City and 2 inches in Westminster, said David Manning, warning-coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service's forecast office in Sterling, Va.

Areas farther west saw more snow, such as Frederick County, where up to 4 inches fell, he said. The region should expect much sunnier weather today, with highs in the upper 30s, Manning said.

Typically, if a school system doesn't use all its allotted snow days, students get an early start to summer. But, the opposite holds true, too - use too many days and the school year has to be extended, school days lengthened or holidays forfeited.

Carroll County has one emergency closing day remaining before the school year would have to be extended. Baltimore County, which in its schedule plans for as many as seven closings, has shut down school four times.

Harford County has extended the school year four days to June 15 because of snow closings. Howard County pushed its last day to June 20 to make up for its four snow days.

Baltimore City, which held classes yesterday, has extended its school year until June 15 to account for three days it has shut schools.

All of the systems could extend the year even more if more bad weather strikes.

As a last resort, schools can seek a waiver of the 180-school-day state law requirement. Schools submit waiver requests to state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. The state board of education decides whether to grant a waiver.

"We're always very cautious before allowing the waiver because systems should be building in snow days into their calendars," said William Reinhard, a spokesman for the State Department of Education.

Four years ago, when Carroll school officials were faced with making up five snow days beyond the four built into the school calendar, they were granted a two-day waiver from a state requirement to have at least 180 days of school. They also opened school on all three scheduled spring break days - including Good Friday, when nearly half of the district's 28,000 students stayed home.

"Nobody wants to get in that situation," said Stephen Guthrie, assistant superintendent of administration, who recalled that one person protested outside the central office building in Westminster because of the Good Friday decision.

Since then, Carroll's school calendar has included more emergency closings after a long history of having only three such days.

Howard County school officials said yesterday that they will seek a state waiver if they are forced to use more than their two remaining emergency days.

Harford County school officials said the last time they took advantage of a waiver was several years ago when they had to make up 15 snow days.

Because of its weather-related closings, Harford County's school year will end June 15 instead of June 11, spokesman Don Morrison said. If more closings are necessary, officials there plan to use April 2 and 3, which are staff development days with no classes for students.

For Carroll County mother Carmela Guthart, snow days aren't as frustrating as they used to be, when her children were younger. Her high school freshman and senior can entertain themselves and daycare isn't an issue. She also recognizes that her kids would see a break at the end of the school year as a gift.

But, she says, "I always plan on us going until the last day."

Sun reporters Arin Gencer, Mary Gail Hare, Brent Jones and John-John Williams IV contributed to this article.

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