School systems close to running out of snow days

Just when the snowplows and shoveling might allow schools to be open on Tuesday or Wednesday, a second storm with at least 5 inches of snow could arrive Tuesday night.

Will area students walk through the doors of their schools any day this week? If not, school districts might be back where they were after the Presidents Day storm of 2003, having used up all or nearly all of their snow days.

All public schools in the Baltimore region, and the majority around the state, will be closed today. Montgomery County has announced that its schools will be closed today and Tuesday.

School districts around the Baltimore region say they will make a decision each day about whether to keep schools closed this week.

Some school districts, such as Baltimore County, have been conservative in closing so far this year and still have five days left - four after today - before they would have to extend the school year.

Another choice, already made by Anne Arundel County public schools, is to request a waiver of the requirement that students be in school for 180 days each year. But Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has granted waivers only in rare circumstances, when hurricanes and blizzards have forced schools to close for extended periods of time, according to Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education. But Grasmick, he said, often says that children shouldn't be at their desks on the Fourth of July, so she and the state school board might well be persuaded to grant districts a few days' exemption.

Districts can adjust their schedules by holding school on days they had set aside for professional development for teachers or by shortening spring vacation, but Reinhard said they must request permission from the state to hold school on official holidays, such as Presidents Day next Monday.

School districts such as Baltimore and Baltimore County, which have a significant number of schools that aren't air-conditioned, face prospects of having to let students out in June because of heat.

Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for the Howard County schools, said her district will have used up four of its five snow days by today. "We will take it a day at a time. Hopefully, we will get a few days of school in this week," she said. Caplan said Howard closed for 12 days one school year and did get a waiver.

After one particularly bad year, Baltimore County's school board decided to insert seven days in the calendar for weather-related closings, said Charles Herndon, a spokesman for the system. If all the snow days aren't used, the board then shortens the school year in the spring. Schools there could be closed all this week before the calendar would have to be extended or the county would ask for a waiver.

The Anne Arundel school district put four snow days into its calendar and will have been closed five days as of today, according to Bob Mosier, a spokesman for the county schools. He said unless the county gets a waiver, it will add days to the end of the school year, but it will not shorten spring break.

Trimming days from spring break is not a popular choice, said Caplan, because many parents and teachers have already booked vacations or made plans.

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