A Maryland school superintendent wouldn't ordinarily give local systems a pass on the requirement that public school students go to school for 180 days a year.
But these have not been ordinary times.
The seemingly endless winter, with its unusual number of snow days, has raised the specter of students going to school into the last week of June.
On Tuesday, the State Board of Education offered a way out. As light snow fell outside their meeting room, board members voted to give Superintendent Lillian Lowery the authority to waive up to five days of school this year for public schools and two days for private schools.
"If we don't get any waiver, we will be in session until June 25, the day after the primary election," said Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel County schools. His district has requested a waiver of five days.
For the second time in four years, most Maryland children have lost nearly two weeks of school to snow and bad weather. Without a waiver, school districts would have to schedule makeup days during spring break or tack them on at the end of the year.
Fifteen school districts in Maryland have sought waivers. Seven, including Anne Arundel and Carroll County, are requesting five days. Baltimore County hasn't filed a request, but officials said they plan to ask for five days. Howard County is seeking four days, and Harford officials say they will ask for five. Baltimore school officials said they will request a waiver but will wait until the winter weather is over.
Jeffrey Macris, a father of five in Anne Arundel and a member of the state superintendent's parent engagement council, said he had "mixed emotions" about the waivers.
"I think we have to agree that students have to be in school to reach the learning objectives we have set them," he said. "But the practical reality is that parents have made plans."
Parents have signed their children up for summer camps, bought plane tickets or arranged for visits to grandparents, he said.
The district with the greatest need for a waiver — Garrett County, which has lost 20 days this school year — is waiting to see what April brings before filing a request, said William Cappe, education program specialist at the Maryland State Department of Education. Garrett had built six weather days into its calendar.
Neighboring Allegany County has lost 16 days. It had planned for 12.
The state requires private schools to be in session for 170 days. The school board said private schools could seek a waiver of up to two days.
Before the vote, the board received hundreds of phone calls from parents eager to learn what it would do, Cappe said. Officials received about 50 letters, most from parents who urged the state board not to shorten the school year. Many said their children needed to be in class all 180 days.
Lowery said officials have to strike a balance between those who want their districts to schedule makeup days and those who have purchased plane tickets or made other plans.
She will make waiver decisions on a case-by-case basis. She said she would consider districts' "earnestness to look at the calendar to make up some of the days before asking for a waiver."
Baltimore County recently scheduled classes on March 31, which was to be a professional development day. Baltimore City plans to open April 4, when it had scheduled a professional development day. Six school systems held classes on Presidents Day, and five plan to be in session the Monday after Easter.
School districts are also shortening spring break.
The last time the state board waived up to five days was during the winter of 2010-2011, when back-to-back snowstorms closed school for more than a week.
Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel County schools have been closed nine days this winter. Howard and Harford counties have closed for 11 days, and Carroll County has been closed 12.
Some school systems are seeking a five-day waiver even though they have fewer days to make up. Baltimore County, for example, had tacked on seven days to its calendar in case of snow and used nine. It would need only a one-day waiver to keep June 17 as the last day of school.
If the state were to approve five-day waivers, such systems would end the school year early.
Baltimore Sun reporter Erica L. Green contributed to this article.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun