Harford's school snow daze

A school bus rolls along Rigdon Road in Jarrettsville Tuesday morning. Classes resumed for the first time since the previous Wednesday, as Harford school officials wrestle with the need to receive a state waiver from some of the missed time this winter. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, The Aegis / February 18, 2014)

Harford County Public Schools are out of planned inclement weather make-up days, and school officials say will they need clarification from the state if they need to request a waiver of excused absence for at least two or, possibly, three days.

Two more days were missed last week - Thursday and Friday - when the winter's biggest snowstorm to date dumped 12 to 18 inches of snow Wednesday night and Thursday, followed by another 2 to 3 inches overnight from Thursday to Friday morning.

Students got a third day off in a row Monday, because school was scheduled to be closed for the Presidents Day holiday, and school officials did not alter their calendar to use Monday as a potential make-up day, either.

Those missed days broke the school system's snow day bank, so to speak, but a top HCPS official said Tuesday they don't plan to start taking away any remaining scheduled holidays or spring break days to recoup any additional missed days because of the weather.

Students have missed nine days so far this year, not including the two days teachers were supposed to be in session for staff development that were canceled because of snow. Seven of those are scheduled to be made up, four at the end of the year, June 10-13, and three during spring break, April 14-16, leaving two, possibly three, up in the air.

Joe Licata, HCPS chief of administration, said school officials will not take away Good Friday, Easter Monday or Memorial Day, nor does HCPS, at this time, plan on using April 17 from spring break to recoup some of the time missed from inclement weather.

School officials plan to seek attendance waivers from the Maryland Department of Education for last week's days and clarification as to whether Feb. 3 counted as a school day.

"If we don't get the waiver, we will make additions to the end of the school year," Licata said Tuesday.

On Feb. 3, despite a forecast for snow, HCPS bused students to their schools on their regular schedule, but around 9:22 a.m. parents were notified schools would be closing early on a special schedule, as snow began falling hard around the county

Elementary, middle and high schools in Harford County were let out at varying times, but they essentially were at their buildings for no more than two and a half hours. That they were brought to school at all, only to be sent back into a snowstorm a short time later, has engendered criticism from parents and local elected officials.

William Reinhard, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Education (MDE), explained that students must attend school for three hours for it to be considered an official school day. 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."

Licata said HCPS would like Feb. 3 to be considered an official day of school. He said officials intend to submit a waiver to MDE as quickly as possible to receive clarification about that day.

Clarification is needed because, according to the Code of Maryland Regulation (COMAR), students in Maryland are required to attend school for 180 days during a school year.

Licata explained the decision to open schools Feb. 3 was based on an assessment of the weather made early that morning.

'When we got up to make those decisions it was 4 a.m. and while there was a prediction for some snow, there was only some precipitation in most of the county at that time," he said. 'We figured we would get [the students] safely to school and whatever snow hit would eventually turn into rain."

He added, however, that when the weather continued to get worse, the decision was made to dismiss students quickly.

Before dismissal, most elementary school students in Harford were given lunch. Middle and high schools students were also given lunch, if the school could allot time for it before their early dismissal, Licata said. The school day starts at 7:30 a.m. for high schoolers, 8:15 a.m. for middle schoolers and either 9 or 9:30 a.m. for elementary schoolers, depending on if they have a fourth-tier schedule for busing.

"We wanted to make sure our elementary school students were fed, so we made sure that occurred," Licata said.

Seven inclement weather make-up days were planned in the school calendar to ensure students would make the required 180 instructional school days.

Licata said HCPS will wait until the end of the snow season before it formally requests all of its waivers from MDE, probably around mid-April.