By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun
6:30 PM EST, February 6, 2013
As tens of thousands of Maryland families reveled in purple pride at M&T Bank Stadium on Tuesday, one mile away, the mood at Digital Harbor High School was blue.
Students and staff questioned the Baltimore school system's decision not to amend school schedules or allow them to attend the parade celebrating the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl win against the San Francisco 49ers.
"We are in a city that our kids are not always proud of," said Patrice LaHair, an English teacher at Digital Harbor. "This is a chance for them to be proud. The leaders of the city are making a parade for people from all over but excluding the most devoted fans — the dedicated students and teachers in Baltimore City."
School systems across the region reported unusually high absences among students Tuesday.
Baltimore County school officials said they "expected a full recovery from purple fever Wednesday" after they saw a sharp increase in the number of schools that noted "excessive absences," meaning their rates were double the norm.
Charlie Herndon, spokesman for the system, said that typically two to three schools per day experience such a rate. On Tuesday, the number jumped to 117.
City schools said its attendance rate Tuesday was 79.4 percent; last year on the 99th day of the school year, the rate was 90.1 percent, according to preliminary data released Wednesday.
Football towns in other states have adjusted schedules to allow their youngest fans to celebrate world champions. In 2011, Green Bay's schools closed early the following Monday to allow students to welcome the Packers home, and Pittsburgh's public schools opened two hours late after the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2006, according to published reports.
But the decision to keep schools open is not unprecedented in Baltimore. When the Ravens won the 2001 Super Bowl, the district's administration said the rain-soaked parade day would be "business as usual." When the Orioles won the World Series in 1983, the students who attended were those who proudly cut class.
Joshua Green of Garrison Middle School was one of those students Tuesday.
"I was mad but I wasn't really tripping because my mother was bringing us down here," Green said. "With everything going on in the city today and all the traffic, schools should have been let out. It's not fair, because it's the city team. It should be a city parade, our parade."
Some city residents agreed with the tradition of keeping schools in session.
David Robbins, who taught in the city for 10 years before moving to education technology consulting, said the city could have held the parade over the weekend so students could attend.
"If we were really concerned about education in our city, we would have taken a step back and said, 'The school day is really important, so maybe we should wait four days,'" Robbins said. "We have kids who really look up to these players, who don't understand why they can't be there. These guys make beaucoup bucks. I'm sure hanging around a couple of extra days wouldn't hurt anybody."
City government officials did not respond to a request for comment about why the parade was scheduled on a weekday.
City school officials said in a statement that while they were proud of the Ravens, the team's performance perfectly illustrated the reason schools remained open.
"They got to be the best team in football through strong commitment, hard work and everyday practice," the statement said. "We honor their Super Bowl victory by making sure we embody and teach, and our students learn these same lessons every day."
"I understand that education is very important, but we pay our money to buy tickets to attend games and buy accessories," Monica Redmond, a 10th-grader at Digital Harbor, wrote from school. "If Maryland politicians are able to leave early to attend, why can't we? I wish we were able to participate in this historical event."
Several parents said they wouldn't want their children to miss the celebration of a lifetime.
"I think today should be an excused absence — for bird flu," said April Hebron of Lansdowne, who had nabbed a prime seat at the stadium to watch the show with her family, including her 12-year-old Baltimore County student, Samantha.
Kyle Edgar, who attends Ridgely Middle School in Baltimore County, persuaded his mother to allow him to miss school, and layered four jerseys — Lewis, Rice, Ngata and Suggs — to keep warm.
"There's like 1,000 days of school," Edgar said. "And this might not ever happen again."
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz attended the festivities at City Hall with his two sons, ages 9 and 11.
"I got them back [to school] for the rest of the day," said Kamenetz, whose boys attend Gilman School. "They only missed a couple hours. I would hope it would not be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but just in case it was for them, I wanted them to get the opportunity to see that."
The Anne Arundel County school system, which usually notes between 4,000 and 4,500 students absent, saw its numbers creep up to 5,780 Friday as the state prepared for the big game. On Monday, after the big win, the number rose to 6,600; on Tuesday, the number rose to 6,750. Staff absences were normal.
"While I'm not a doctor and there are a lot of illnesses going around, it certainly appears that we are seeing more than a few cases of purple flu," quipped Bob Mosier, spokesman for Anne Arundel's schools. "This seems to be affecting our students more than our teachers, and we wish all of them a speedy recovery."
Howard County school officials said that teacher absences were above average for this time of year, and student absentee rates reached 10 percent at three schools and 13 percent at one school Tuesday.
Though not all schools had reported, by 3 p.m. Harford County schools had an 89 percent attendance rate, down from their normal average of about 96 percent, said a spokeswoman, Teri Kranefeld.
However, the city schools' union leaders were outraged by the district's request that principals submit the names of teachers and administrators who were absent in order to penalize them.
When asked about the complaint, the school system said it had called schools to see if they were appropriately staffed in case it needed to send personnel.
"Why pick this one particular day to do that?" said Jimmy Gittings, president of the city's principal union. "To make a decision like that when the mayor, the governor, every politician in this state was celebrating a victory that put this city on the map is despicable and made us look like we have no concern or care for the employees in our system."
Baltimore Sun reporters Alison Knezevich, Kevin Rector and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.
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