The Maryland State Board of Education voted Tuesday to allow school systems to request waivers for as many as five days of instruction that were lost to inclement weather this year, a move that may help many school systems avoid lengthy extensions to the school year.
The board’s action gives the state superintendent of schools, Lillian M. Lowery, the authority to approve waivers of the requirement that all Maryland public school systems hold classes for a minimum of 180 days. Under the measure, the state’s 24 school districts could ask to forgo one day to five days of that minimum.
Board President Charlene M. Dukes said Tuesday that classroom instruction is the top priority, but “we don’t have control over the weather.” She said the board was trying to strike a balance between the importance of learning and a winter that was unusually harsh.
As if to underscore the case for an exceptional winter, the board’s action came as another snowstorm descended on the region Tuesday. Larger-than-predicted accumulations arrived in many areas, but roads were generally clear and schools remained open.
Most Maryland school systems have had 10 to 13 school closings due to weather this school year, state officials said.
Even if such districts were granted a waiver of five school days, they would have to make up lost time with inclement weather days built into their calendars and other measures, such as having classes on previously designated holidays or professional days.
Some school systems, including Montgomery County, already have submitted waiver requests in hopes of not extending school into additional weeks of June. Montgomery has closed school 10 times as a result of snow and ice and had just four snow days built into the regular schedule.
Montgomery officials previously asked for a four-day waiver, but officials said Tuesday that they were considering expanding their request because snowfall on March 17 closed schools again.
“There is a discussion about whether to ask for a fifth day at this point,” said Montgomery schools spokesman Dana Tofig. If its original waiver was granted, Montgomery’s goal was to end the school year on June 13, one day later than planned.
In Prince George’s County, officials have not yet asked for a waiver, but they plan to do so, said spokeswoman Lynn McCawley. Prince George’s schools closed eight times due to weather, and the county had four emergency weather days built into its school calendar.
Maryland state officials said they would act soon on waiver requests, which they said had been submitted by 15 school systems. The requests must explain efforts to use inclement weather days in school calendars and to make up instructional time when possible.
“We will try to give them a response as quickly as possible,” Lowery said Tuesday.
In Alexandria, for example, middle-schoolers will have a slightly longer school day starting next month to make up for time lost during snow days.
Schools stayed open throughout the region Tuesday, but some had closed more this year than most years in recent memory, including the 2009-10 school year of Snowmageddon fame. Garrett County, in Western Maryland, has been closed for 20 days this school year, and Allegany County has been closed for 16 days.
State officials said that to compensate for school closings, six school systems stayed open on Presidents’ Day and five have sought permission to be open on Easter Monday.
In Montgomery, some parents have objected to a longer school year, citing plans for vacation or summer camps and an expectation that June 12 would be the last day of school. They argue that students are tuned out by then anyway, focused on summer break and not classroom learning.
Montgomery school officials have said they are seeking a balance, valuing instruction time but also recognizing that families and students make plans based on the school calendar. Staying open also comes at a cost. Montgomery officials said each extra day that the schools remain open costs the system about $500,000.
Some Montgomery parents contend that students need all of their allotted days in school.
State officials heard from a vocal contingent of parents — nearly all from Montgomery — who argued against granting waivers.
“They want the entire 180 days given to their students,” said William Cappe, education program specialist at the Maryland State Department of Education.