Grasmick gets authority to waive school calendars

Superintendent will decide how many days each district will get to compensate for snow

February 24, 2010|By Liz Bowie | liz.bowie@baltsun.com

Maryland's school systems can ask for a waiver of up to five days from their calendars because of record snowstorms that have kept many area students home for as many as 10 days this year.

The state school board voted unanimously Tuesday afternoon to give state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick the authority to decide how many days she will waive for each district.

Maryland law requires public school students to attend class for 180 days a year, but school board members said the unprecedented amount of snowfall in December and February made it necessary to reduce the number.

State officials had considered delaying the Maryland School Assessments, but decided that the annual testing for third- through eighth-graders will go ahead beginning March 8, as planned, because delay would cause complications in the scoring of the tests. The state's superintendents had recommended going ahead with the tests.

In the next two weeks, each school system will present a proposal to Grasmick detailing how it plans to make up snow days and how many days it is requesting she waive.

Grasmick said she will make her decisions on a case-by-case basis and that no school system could assume it would get five days. "I am recommending there be a waiver for up to five days, and the operative word is 'up to,' " Grasmick said.

School calendars vary across the state, so the state cannot adjust the calendar uniformly. In addition, systems have taken anywhere between eight and 15 days off for snow.

For instance, Anne Arundel has used 10 school days; Baltimore City has used nine; and Baltimore and Howard counties have used eight.

"If you are in Garrett County, you have already used 15 days because it was still snowing there on Friday," Grasmick said.

She said the waiver was justified by the unprecedented amount of snow that closed state offices for two days and required the governor to declare a state of emergency.

Grasmick said not all school systems can simply add days to the end of the calendar because students and staff would be in buildings with high temperatures in mid- to late June. Some schools close if it is too hot. In addition, summer schools often begin a week after the regular year ends.

Some school systems, such as Baltimore County, build more than 180 school days into their calendars and then reduce the school year, depending on how many snow days are used. Though Baltimore County schools have been closed for eight days, seven of those were already built into the calendar.

Grasmick said once she gets the plans from each superintendent, she will act quickly so that parents and teachers can make plans for spring break and summer vacation.

If there is another major snowstorm this season, Grasmick said, she probably would not add days to the waiver.

Some school systems are likely to ask for more days than others. Anne Arundel County only built four snow days into the calendar, so school officials would have to find six days to add to the academic year.

Howard County, on the other hand, has announced that it will send students to school April 22 and May 14, two days it had planned to have only teachers working. The superintendent has announced that he will ask for a waiver for one day.

Baltimore City could ask for a waiver of as many as four days, having built five days into its calendar. Harford County would need to apply for a waiver for two days.

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