Howard County schools closed to students nine times this winter — four more than allotted in the calendar — but administrators are still waiting to hear whether or not students will have to make up those extra days.
As of Tuesday, April 1, the Howard County Public School System was still waiting to hear if the Maryland State Department of Education and State Superintendent Lillian Lowery granted a requested waiver of four days at the end of the school year. If the waiver is granted, the last day of school will be June 18.
Originally, the last day of school, absent of any weather cancellations, would have been Wednesday, June 11. But the school system shut down a total of 11 times this year, even though on two of those days schools were already closed for students.
"It's been an extraordinarily challenging year," said Caryn Lasser, the school system's director of strategic planning.
The Board of Education applied for the waiver on Tuesday, March 25; when the board publicly met two days later, they reaffirmed that position with a unanimous vote.
Lowery, granted the power to give waivers by the State Board of Education, has already waived days in Carroll County, but denied full waiver requests in Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties.
The decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, and no timetable has been set for decisions on the waiver requests.
Superintendent Renee Foose said if Lowery doesn't grant the four-day waiver, the school system would "go back around" and ask again.
"We'll ask for three days," she said. "That we need that time to get our buildings ready for summer school is a viable-enough argument."
Foose said the school system "should know where we stand" by March 28; that was not the case, said spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove, but she said the system hopes to have a decision this week.
In the worst-case scenario, Foose said, the last day of school would be Thursday, June 19, which would entail a three-day waiver.
If students had to make-up all nine missed days, they would be in school until Wednesday, June 25.
But that's problematic, Lasser said, as Tuesday, June 24 is the 2014 gubernatorial primary, which means school buildings will be closed and used as polling places.
Furthermore, Lasser said last week, summer school starts on Monday, June 23 — a date that would have to be pushed back, causing a ripple effect.
"Summer school would be impacted," she said.
Delaying the start of summer school to June 30 means students in grades K-8 would be attending until July 25, instead of July 18.
High school students would finish summer school on Aug. 8, instead of Aug. 1, which would give the district only a weekend between the end of summer school and the beginning of new teacher orientation on Monday, Aug. 11.
Outside of a question from board member Cindy Vaillancourt regarding the legality of opening schools on weekends to make up missed days, at its March 27 meeting the board didn't discuss options for making up the days if a waiver isn't granted.
Lasser cited the Annotated Code of Maryland, which states that schools may not open on Saturdays, Sundays or state-mandated holidays to meet the required 180 student days in public schools.
"Well, that takes care of Easter Monday and Good Friday," said Board Chairwoman Ellen Giles.
Still, according to the state department, six school districts opened to students on President's Day, which is a state holiday (Howard was not one of them), and several have requested to be open on Easter Monday.
Amani-Dove said the school system is waiting for a waiver decision to decide on a contingency plan.
"We haven't written off anything," Giles said. "We're doing the best we can."
For updates on Howard's waiver application, go to howardcountytimes.com.