After a winter of little snow — and an order by the governor — Maryland school children are likely to have an exceptionally long summer break.
By this time last year, students had been snowed-out of school at least a week, and the makeup school days pushed deep into June.
The snowfall this week capped a far different winter, one tied as the fifth-least snowy on record. The mild winter coincides with a state mandate that schools can't open before Labor Day. With few snow days to make up, children are poised for roughly three full months of summer vacation.
"What makes this unique is it was going to be a longer summer anyway because of the executive order," Anne Arundel County Schools spokesman Bob Mosier said. "But it has been lengthened even farther because of the mild winter."
Anne Arundel's school year is on pace to finish June 8, one week earlier than last year. The district planned for five snow days, but used only one when it closed on Tuesday.
"Any days that we don't use of those five, we chop off at the end of the school year," Mosier said. The district's last day is now scheduled to be among the earliest in Maryland.
Families are considering the long summer with mixed feelings: excitement about the prospect of late summer vacations, but concern about the costs for additional camp or daycare.
"You got an early end and a late start, which is definitely difficult. I feel lucky it's happening when my kids are older," said Juliet Fisher, a single mother and orphans' court judge in Baltimore County. "I really do feel for working parents who have younger kids."
Many children will have 12 weeks of summer compared to 10 last year. That's welcome news to Christina Herron in Pikesville. She's planning to tuck a second short family vacation into late August.
"It's more feasible to do something early and to do something late," she said. "You have more time to save money in between."
Last September, Gov. Larry Hogan announced the mandate requiring public school systems to start after Labor Day with much fanfare.
"School after Labor Day is now the law of the land in Maryland," he said standing at the Ocean City boardwalk.
His executive order pushed back the start of school next year to Sept. 5 after a contentious debate about whether education policy should be driven by economics. Supporters of the change argued that starting school after Labor Day would extend families' summer vacations at the beach and help seasonal businesses in Ocean City, pumping money into the state economy.
Some educators opposed the change, saying a prolonged summer break would set students back in their studies.
"Ever tried to learn a language and then walk away from it for weeks and weeks and weeks?" said Susan Kleinsasser, who has taught nearly two decades at Rodgers Forge Elementary School in Baltimore County.
Hogan's order preceded a school year with an unusually mild and dry winter. The winter has brought just 3.2 inches of snow overall to BWI Marshall Airport. It has averaged 40.5 degrees, the eighth-warmest winter on record, according to the National Weather Service.
Temperatures are expected to climb to the low 50s by Saturday, and Monday brings the official start of spring. If indeed winter weather is over, school districts will have used far fewer snow days than last year. Both Baltimore city and county used their first snow days Tuesday; the county used a second Wednesday. Last year, city students were snowed-out for seven days; eight days for county students.
Along with Baltimore County, Harford schools closed Wednesday, too. Carroll County had a two-hour delay Wednesday and announced one for Thursday.
This year, Baltimore city and county planned for five and six snow days, respectively. Both could finish about a week early without more snow.
"Thank goodness," said Cole Shacochis-Edwards, a mother of two in the Lauraville neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore. She hates the long commute to her children's schools, which can sometimes take two hours. "Our kids go to charter schools and they're pretty far away."
She welcomed the prospect of a long, relaxed summer for her 16-year-old son, Jasper, and 13-year-old daughter, Alden May. Summer in their household doesn't mean lazy days in front of the TV.
"Our kids are expected to leave the house and lock the door and go to the community pool," she said.
Bryan Hillman of North Baltimore also was pleased at the prospect of two more weeks home with his 7-year-old son, Jude. Hillman often works from home.
"It seems like summer blows by so fast," he said. "I always want more."