Howard schools push back MSA dates, mull waivers

For Howard County students, March came in like a lion, canceling two days of school in a row. A late winter storm blowing through the region in the early hours Monday, closed schools that day, and schools stayed closed Tuesday as Howard County Public School System grounds crews tried to make sidewalks and parking lots accessible.

While the work removing snow is nearly done, the work for students to make up missed days is just beginning.

"Clearly, when you lose a couple of days it breaks continuity and it can be hard to get it back," said Board of Education Chairwoman Ellen Giles.

So far, the district has closed school because of snow eight times this winter. Five inclement weather days were built into this year's academic calendar, and as of Tuesday, March 4, all had been used — plus the additional three, which pushes the last day of school back to Monday, June 23.

According to an email from the school system, "once the winter season has ended, the school board will make a decision regarding the makeup of the additional missed days."

Giles said making up the days could mean any number of things — adding a few minutes to each school day, or tacking the additional days on to the end of the year. But what's likely is applying for a waiver from the State Department of Education, Giles said, though it's still too early to say definitively.

The eight snow days this year matches the winter of "Snowmaggedon" in 2010, and it still hasn't broken the local record for snow days — 11 days the winter of 1993-94, the most on record in the past 25 years. The only time in recent memory the school used zero inclement weather days was the 2001-02 academic year (the district dismissed early on Sept. 11, 2001). In the 2011-12 school year, only one inclement weather day was used in what was a mild winter. That year, the only canceled day of school was the first day, closed because of Hurricane Irene.

With temperatures well below normal for this time of year in Howard County and the rest of central Maryland following the snow early this week, schools are trying to make up events and meetings, in addition to school work. Students may have had a chance to play in the snow Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday meant the start of state-wide testing in Howard schools.

The Maryland School Assessment, in its last year, was supposed to start Tuesday, March 4 for students. Statewide, the testing window has been extended two days, ending March 14.Test days this week in Howard County were to have been pushed back to Wednesday and Thursday, while next weeks' test days — March 11 and 12 — are unaffected.

Also unaffected is the window for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, field tests, which will run from March 24 to April 11. Numerous Howard classrooms, randomly selected, are participating in the PARCC pilot.

A PTA Council of Howard County general meeting scheduled for March 3 has been moved to Monday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the Homewood Center. Up for discussion at the meeting is the school system's new, half-implemented health and wellness policy currently before the board. The council will decide Monday what position it will take for testimony March 13.

A quarterly school board meeting with the county council, originally set for early March 4, was canceled as schools closed. Emails from school officials said the meeting would be rescheduled.

Finally, this week's round of snow also delayed the issuing of interim report cards. School officials said those would be distributed March 10.

The first day of spring is Thursday, March 20, bringing with it a break from the winter malaise — at least in theory.

"We're just focused on getting through the month of March," Giles said. "We've had snow this late in the year before. ... No one wants to even hear the word 'snow' right now. I think even if you're an avid skier, you're done."

Copyright © 2018, Howard County Times, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad