Harford County students should go to school more and longer days, school Superintendent Ray R. Keech said during a meeting with about 65 parents last week in Edgewood.
"I don't believe that 180 days of education is enough. We need longer days and more days. Research and common sense tells us that time on task is the single most important factor in preparing our students to compete in a global economy," Mr. Keech said.
The forum is one of a series held annually by the school system to address parents' concerns.
Robert Hickey, vice president of the PTA of Deerfield Elementary in Edgewood, criticized the school board for voting to begin school before Labor Day in the fall. He said it was unfair to students in older schools such as Deerfield, which is not air-conditioned.
"When it's 90 degrees outside and the humidity is 100 percent, our students are not going to do as well as those students who are sitting in climate-controlled 72 degrees," he said.
He said the state requirement that students go to school for 180 days each year is "ridiculous." And he asked Mr. Keech to consider adding 15 minutes to each school day and then requiring fewer days. He said costs, such as busing, would go down.
Anne Ober, school board member, said it is just as hot in the fall as in the summer. "When do we want our students facing this heat? When they are well-rested after school vacation or in the summer when they are tired from being in school all year long?" she asked.
The school board has been repeatedly criticized for voting to start school Aug. 30 and end it June 9.
This is the first time in Harford's history that school will start before Labor Day, and parents have criticized the decision for imperiling everything from family vacations to interfering with 4-H projects at the Maryland State Fair.
The State Fair runs from Aug. 28 to Sept. 4 this year.
"There are only 650 students and 400 adults who are registered members of the 4-H in this county. And less than 1 percent of these students have projects at the fair where they need to sleep over" at the fair, Mrs. Ober said.
Mr. Hickey also asked the school system for money for furniture and other equipment.
"Our school opened in 1962 and we have the original chairs in the cafeteria. They are literally falling apart and they are a real danger to children. We accept conditions in our schools that we would never accept in our own homes," he said.
Other parents asked the school board for money to repair and maintain older schools.
"Edgewood High is the most depressing school I have ever been in," said Marie Donald. "Half of the lights aren't working and my daughter can't walk down the hall without worrying that a ceiling tile is going to buckle and fall on her head."
She said it isn't fair that students at older schools do without while students at newer schools, such as Fallston High, have modern facilities.
Members of the PTA at Edgewood Middle echoed her concerns. "Parts of this school are over 25 years old and have never been renovated," Linda McDonough said.
Mr. Keech said maintenance and repairs have been delayed for years because of budget restraints and would continue to be postponed.