Harford students lose another day from spring break to snow

Yet another day has been taken away from spring break for students in Harford County Public Schools.

The Harford County Public Schools Board of Education members voted unanimously at their meeting Monday night to send students to school on April 17 – previously slated as a day off for spring break – to make up for an instructional day missed because of inclement weather.

The school system will still have at least one day, and possibly two, left to make up to meet the state minimum of 180 instructional days this school year and be able to close as planned in June without adding additional days at the end of the calendar.

Superintendent Barbara Canavan, who was permanently appointed to a four-year term Monday night, said that to request a waiver for the remaining day or if more snow days are needed, the school system will have to certify to the Maryland State Board of Education that every day possible has been used for instruction.

"So the proposal before us is to add Thursday as a school day, so that we can make up days that we have used due to inclement weather; that will still leave us one day over and we would have to request a waiver for that," Canavan said during the board meeting Monday night.

Canavan said if the school system does not get a waiver for the other missed day of instruction because of the weather, it will be added to the end of the school year; the last scheduled day is June 13.

Public schools "shall be open for pupil attendance for at least 180 school days and a minimum of 1,080 school hours during a 10-month school year," according to Chapter 7, Section 103 of the Maryland Annotated Code.

Harford students have missed nine days so far this year, not including professional development days when there was snowfall although students were already off. Eight of those days will be made up, four at the end of the year, June 10 to 13, and four during spring break, April 14-17.

April 14 and 15 were slated as inclement weather make-up days, or days off for students. April 16 was scheduled as a professional development day, another day off for students. April 17-21 was originally scheduled as spring break, but the board's decision will only leave students with Good Friday and Easter Monday off for spring break.

Waiver requested for short day

HCPS officials also said they have applied for a waiver from the Maryland State Board of Education to count Feb. 3 a full-school day, following the early closing of schools because of harsh winter weather.

Schools opened at their normal time on Feb. 3, amid weather reports for snow, frigid temperatures and icy conditions. Around 9 a.m., school administrators decided to dismiss students on a special schedule, sparking a wave of anger and concern from parents.

High schools and North Harford Middle, which start at 7:30 a.m., dismissed at 10 a.m. (30 minutes after the last elementary students arrived at their schools); middle schools, which start at 8:15 a.m., and the John Archer School dismissed at 10:45 a.m.; elementary schools, which start at 9 a.m., and pre-K dismissed at 11:30 a.m.; and fourth tier schools, which start at 9:30 a.m., dismissed at noon.

In total, school was held for 2 1/2 hours on Feb. 3.

According to Chapter 7, Section 103 of the Maryland Annotated Code, schools "shall be open for pupil attendance a minimum of three hours during each school day."

HCPS officials said they are hopeful the school board will approve the waiver.

They also noted the State Board of Education's decision on whether to classify Feb. 3 as a full school day will determine if the last day of school for students will need to be pushed past June 13.

New communications manager

The board also appointed Jillian Lader as the school system's manager of communications, beginning on March 17. She replaces Teri Kranefeld, who left in January and who had become the face of Harford County Public Schools for many in the community.

Lader will be paid $97,233 a year, Lindsay Bilodeau, communications specialist said. The position was advertised on the school system website with a salary of $97,233 to $123,030 a year.

Lader has been with the school system since 2005, working as a recruitment and staffing specialist for the past seven years, according to her LinkedIn profile.

The board also appointed Dr. Susan Austin to the position of director of special education.

Bus policy, other issues

Bill Wehland, of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bel Air, asked the school board to reconsider exemptions to the HCPS transportation policy, which no longer allows students living within a one-mile radius of an elementary school or a half mile of a secondary school to obtain waivers to use buses for safety reasons, such as no sidewalks or crossing guards a busy intersections.

St. Matthew Church's property along Moores Mill Road boarders Southampton Middle School. The majority of the church property is wetlands and woods, Wehland said, as is some of the Southampton Middle property.

Wehland said students who are required to walk along Moores Mill Road use sidewalks that are both within the town limits and outside of them. Wehland said during public comments. In January, Wehland said the church found out they are responsible for snow removal on the sidewalk because it has been annexed into the town of Bel Air. He said the town's code requires tenants and owners to remove snow from pavements and sidewalks within 24 to 48 hours after a snowfall.

Wehland said the church has "graciously" taken on the responsibility for removing the snow, but church officials noticed there are some dangerous spots along the route: a crossover on Moores Mill Road and two bridges where sidewalks are wrecked because of a curve in a road.

"Of course all of this is due to a result of the HCPS policy eliminating bus transportation impacting 41 students," Wehland said. "Reconsider removal and exemptions to policy to walking distance, where the safety of students is being compromised."

Megan Greco, a parent at Bel Air Elementary School, told the board she is concerned about the options for parking and the safety of 150 students and families who walk to the school.

On Feb. 19, the families of walkers received a letter from the school that they will be ticketed if they park in the private business lot between the school and another HCPS lot in front of the old school headquarters on Gordon Street. On Feb. 21, families received another letter stating they could park on Lee Street, which was previously discouraged because of town concerns, or on Gordon Street.

"The walkers who park on Lee Street will interfere with buses and cause more havoc and the Gordon Street option provides more likelihood children will get hit by buses," Greco said, as many walkers actually get rides daily.

She said the number of walker families also outweighs the number of parking spaces and the Gordon Street lot collects water in the rain, which "covers your feet up to your ankle."

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