A winter storm blanketed Carroll County on Thursday, forcing Carroll County Public Schools to close for snow at the earliest point in the school year in the last 15 years, and causing concern for administrators about this year’s calendar.
Steven Johnson, CCPS assistant superintendent of instruction, said there were only four inclement weather days built into the 2018-19 calendar, a number that is now down to three after Thursday’s closure.
And while they don’t know what weather this winter will bring, Johnson said they are worried about making this year’s calendar work. Even still, he said, CCPS will close schools when need be for inclement weather.
“We have to do what’s safest for our students and our staff,” he said.
Carroll schools are set to end on Friday, June 14 this year. CCPS is constrained by Gov. Larry Hogan’s state mandate that went into effect for the 2017-18 school year, requiring public school systems to start after Labor Day but not go later than June 15 for students.
But, this past legislative session, Senate Bill 729 passed, allowing local school boards to extend the school year up to five days past that June 15 date without a waiver from the Maryland State Board of Education, William Reinhard, director of communications for the Maryland State Board of Education, said via email.
If those additional days are needed, it could push classes into the week of June 17 through June 21.
CCPS Superintendent Steve Lockard said via email it is “unfortunately very early” to have to close schools. But, Lockard said, echoing Johnson, student safety is the “first and most important” factor when deciding to close schools.
“Our understanding of the language in CoMAR is that we must let MSDE know in writing after each inclement weather day used and how we intend to make it up. In this case, we still have room built in to this school year's calendar. We built in four inclement weather days. Now we have used one of them, so we will let MSDE know we will make this day up by using one of the built in days at the end of our calendar,” Lockard said. “If we were to use all four of our built in days, then we would have to let MSDE know if there are any other days in our existing calendar that we could use as a make up day (but they cannot be state mandated holidays). Once we have demonstrated to MSDE that we used all our available options, then we would have to tack inclement weather days on to the end of our calendar to make them up and realize the mandated 180 days.”
Last fall, when presenting calendar options, former Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie told Board of Education members “neither calendar is a good one,” citing concern the 2018-19 calendar would have to accommodate for Jewish holidays and an election year.
Next year looks even bleaker, Johnson said, with just three inclement weather days built into the 2019-20 school calendar, which was approved this week at the Nov. 14 school board meeting.
Last year, Carroll had six days built into the calendar and wound up closing seven times because of weather, though the school system did not have to ask for a waiver from the state and ended on June 15. In 2016, the school system received approval to waive the last day, though that was to keep students from having to go in for a half-day on a Monday. That year, CCPS only used three of its five built-in weather days in the calendar.