With hope of ending the year June 12, Harford school officials seek state waiver for five missed days

Harford County Public Schools will request the maximum of five state waivers for instructional days missed for inclement weather, school officials say, and if they are approved, the school year will end on June 12.

Neighboring Cecil County Public Schools is seeking a waiver for three of the days its students missed this winter.

HCPS students have missed 11 full days during the 2013-2014 school year's unusually harsh winter; however, seven of those days are being made up through a combination of days built into the end of the school calendar and a shortened spring break.

One of the waivers being sought is for Feb. 3, when classes were held for less than the three-hour state minimum before being dismissed because of a snowstorm in progress. Though state law suggests otherwise, HCPS officials have refused to classify Feb. 3 as a missed day – which would bring the total days missed to 12.

The Maryland State Department of Education voted March 25 to allow State Superintendent Lillian Lowery the authority to waive up to five missed school days this year, as most school districts around the state lost nearly two weeks because of the weather.

Maryland law requires students to attend school for 180 days during a school year.

Harford is seeking its waiver in two packages.

The first package submitted by HCPS is a waiver for Feb. 3, when schools closed early because of freezing temperatures and snow falling – leaving students in class only 2 1/2 hours, said Jillian Lader, spokesperson for HCPS.

According to Chapter 7, Section 3 of the Maryland Annotated Code, students must attend school a minimum of three hours to be considered a full-day.

Lader said the school system requested the waiver from MSDE on Feb. 19 for the short day and are awaiting a response.

According to Lader, once the winter season is over, HCPS will request another four waivers from MSDE for full days missed.

The other seven days missed during the school year for inclement weather will be remedied by seven days built into the school calendar as make-up days, Lader said.

Four days during spring break, April 14-17, and three days at the end of the school year June 10-12, will be used as make-up days, Lader said.

If the state superintendent approves all of the waivers Harford is seeking, Lader said, that will make the last day of school for students June 12, rather than June 13 which had been posted on school website for the last several weeks.

HCPS does not foresee ending the school year a day earlier than projected as a bad thing, said Lader, who also noted the request for five inclement weather waivers from HCPS was not based on MSDE's decision to approve up to five waivers.

As of Tuesday afternoon, waiver requests for two school districts were denied and at least two had been approved.

Montgomery County Public Schools and Anne Arundel Public Schools submitted requested waivers of five days apiece and MSDE denied both, according to William Reinhard, spokesperson for MSDE.

Carroll County Public Schools and St. Mary's County Public Schools, which both requested five waivers from MSDE, received approval, Reinhard said.

Cecil schools waivers

Cecil County Public Schools have been closed for 12 instructional days, plus another day that had been built in to the school calendar as a potential make-up day, according to CCPS spokesperson Kelly Keeton.

Cecil County had nine inclement weather days built into the school calendar, Keeton explained. She said they will use eight of their inclement weather make-up days, since one already was lost to snow, and two professional development days – March 31 and April 17 – as instructional days to make up for 10 days missed.

Earlier in March, CCPS applied for two waivers from the state education department to cover the other two instructional days missed for inclement weather and a third to make the last day of school June 13, a Friday, as opposed to June 16, a Monday, as was initially scheduled.

Cecil County schools are working with parents to accommodate student absences for planned family vacations, Keeton said.

"Principals at every school have been instructed to work with the parents on a case-by-case basis," Keeton said. "Especially with April 17 backing up into spring break; we understand families had travel plans."

Keeton said Monday afternoon CCPS has not yet heard back from the state about the status of their inclement weather waivers.

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