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Trim spring break? After weather closures, Baltimore schools have few options to meet 180-day mandate

For Baltimore city schools, spring break week begins at the end of the day Friday — except maybe not.

After closing Wednesday due to snow, the city school system must open one day next week or be out of compliance with state rules that require 180 days of instruction for the school year. Under a mandate from Gov. Larry Hogan, those 180 days must fall between Labor Day and June 15.

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The city already has closed five days for bad weather this school year. Some makeup days are accounted for, but officials say the system needs to turn two additional vacation days into school days to meet all the requirements.

Earlier this week the State Board of Education denied a request from city schools for a waiver to the 180-day rule.

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State school board refuses to give Baltimore City schools a waiver to reduce number of school days, says city needs to add one more school day to calendar this year.

The city could open on Memorial Day, meaning schools would be in session every weekday from spring break until June 15.

Officials also could open one day next week, eating into the scheduled March 26-30 spring break, but have not yet decided to do so.

If one spring break day is reclaimed for instruction, it would likely be Monday — but that leaves school officials only tomorrow to notify parents.

“We are looking at what options are available for making up the days,” said Edie House Foster, the system’s spokeswoman, late Thursday afternoon. “At this time, I have not received word that a decision has been reached.”

Besides biting into spring break, there’s another reason school officials don’t want to open a day next week: It would break a contract with teachers. The Baltimore Teachers Union says their contract requires that teachers get a five-day break in the spring.

Trish Garcia Pilla, a parent education advocate in the city, said she has no idea what the district is going to do — or should do.

School systems may have to adjust their calendars as they get closer to running out of snow days.

“We either violate the teachers’ contract or we violate the governor’s mandate,” she said. “I have the biggest question mark hanging over my head at this point. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

The Maryland State Department of Education declined to comment Thursday on the situation.

“I pray for some kind of miracle and that there can be some kind of appeals process to the state board,” Garcia Pilla said. “The board has put us in a position where we might not be able to follow the governor’s mandate.”

Pilla said there are schools where a large portion of families already have committed to spring break plans, and they’re going to go no matter what action the district takes.

Telling parents Friday that spring break would be shortened by a day “would be too short notice,” Garcia Pilla said.

She said the state school board seems to be “kowtowing to the governor” by not granting a waiver to city schools.

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Amelia Chassé, a spokeswoman for Hogan, noted in an email that the waiver process with the state board is independent of the governor's office.

Chasse said jurisdictions could have found flexibility in their school calendars by eliminating other days off, such as for teachers union service, a teachers union conference in Ocean City and "parent-teacher conferences, which have historically been during non-school hours when parents are available."

She also noted that a "vast majority of Marylanders support the governor's return to a common sense calendar by starting school after Labor Day," and cited support from other elected officials and a legislative panel that studied the matter.

This story has been updated.

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