The winter school break for Sharon White's children started at Thanksgiving, and it could reach to Easter unless a hearing next month goes her way.
The extended holiday is an unwelcome one, she and her teen-age children say. She has six children in kindergarten through 12th grade.
They aren't going to Carroll schools because county officials have not renewed a waiver that allowed them to attend while they are living with a relative in Baltimore County. Their Manchester home is being repaired after a fire destroyed half of it two years ago.
And they are not in Baltimore County schools because Ms. White, who is appealing the decision on the waiver, does not want to enroll them for the two or three months it will take to finish the house.
"The main reason is I just think it's not right," she said. "My kids have no loyalty to anything down here [in Reisterstown]. Their lives are very much centered around the things going on in
Ms. White still owns her home and pays the mortgage and property taxes. She is making every effort to repair the home and move back as soon as possible, she said.
But according to Board of Education policies, she needs a letter from a builder verifying the occupancy date. The problem is, there is no builder right now, until money she has borrowed comes next month.
The policy does allow for "hardship" waivers at the discretion of the superintendent, and Ms. White is hoping to get one.
"In circumstances like mine, when you've been put out of your home through no fault of your own, I think they should give you all the time you need," Ms. White said. "I own my home. It's not like I'm not planning to move back."
Ms. White's lawyer, Ralph Uebersax, has contacted schools Superintendent R. Edward Shilling to appeal the decision by Edwin Davis, director of pupil services, not to extend Ms. White's waiver.
Mr. Shilling said Thursday that he has designated Deputy Superintendent Brian Lockard to meet with Mr. Uebersax and understood it would only be a matter of scheduling a time convenient for both.
After that meeting, he said, Mr. Lockard will consider the matter and make a decision.
"If whatever decision is made is something they have a problem with, they have a right to appeal that to the Board of Education," Mr. Shilling said. If it goes that far and Ms. White still is not satisfied, she may appeal to the State Board of Education.
Mr. Shilling said he could not comment further on the case because it is in the appeal process.
"It could be resolved in January," he said, depending on the availability of all parties to meet.
Ms. White's troubles started in January 1992, when a wood stove fire severely damaged the kitchen and the second floor above it in her old farmhouse.
While Ms. White arranged for repairs, she and her children and mother moved into a Reisterstown townhouse with Ms. White's brother.
Her first setback came when she haggled with the insurance company over how much it was to pay. She lost the fight, learning too late she was inadequately insured and would get only $30,000 to cover $50,000 in damage, she said.
Ms. White is a single mother working as an administrative assistant at American Bottlers Equipment Co. in Owings Mills, at an hour.
Until the insurance money ran out, a contractor rebuilt part of the house, putting up exterior walls, some siding, some insulation and the wood framing for interior walls. The basic electrical wiring and plumbing was done, but not the finish work that would allow her to have running water or electricity.
Ms. White appled for a low-interest loan from the state department of Housing and Community Development in June 1992, never expecting it would take until December 1993 to get approval, she said.
A year and a half later, she has an appointment to settle on the loan Thursday, she said. She hopes to get the money quickly and bring the contractor back to finish the job by March.
She applied for a $40,000 loan, so she could improve the house beyond its rundown condition when she bought it in 1987, and to put in a new heat-pump system to replace the unsafe combination of wood stove and kerosene heaters, she said.
At first, school officials were cooperative, letting the children continue.
"I guess they assumed it wouldn't be that long. I had no idea either," she said.
But in August, she said, officials questioned her commitment to moving back to Carroll County. She received a letter saying she had 90 days once school started to prove Carroll County residency. If not, she was to either withdraw the children or pay out-of-county tuition of about $1,600 a month for all the children.
"At that time, I explained to them we were very close," she said. She expected the loan to come through at any time.
A pupil services worker told her that if he saw the house under construction at the end of the 90 days, he would grant another waiver.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, her children came home with notes from school saying their out-of-county waiver had expired, she said.
With offices closed until the next Monday, she fretted over the holiday, she said, until she could start calling.
"I couldn't get them to bend," she said. "I was asking for another 90 days, at the most."
She said Mr. Davis told her she could appeal in writing to the superintendent. At that point, she said, she called Mr. Uebersax.
"I felt I needed someone to back me up," she said. "There's this great big board that can make decisions about your life."
Even though they have been living in Reisterstown, Ms. White said the children were spending all day in classes at Manchester Elementary, North Carroll Middle and North Carroll High schools. Their grandmother drove them every day.
In the afternoon, they would ride school buses to the farmhouse, where they tended the ducks, two dogs and a cat that remained there. In the evening, they went to school athletic events.
Now, they spend their days between Reisterstown and Manchester.
"I'm pretty much bored," said son David White, 15. "Me and my brother Rick have wrestling this year. We're probably going to miss the whole season."
Rick White, 17, is concerned about getting back to school by the end of January, or risking having to repeat the year to graduate.
The two boys at North Carroll High School said that transferring to Franklin High School for a few months would be worthless.
North Carroll has a four-period day with 90-minute classes in which students finish four year-long courses in one semester, then take four more classes the next. Franklin has the traditional seven-period day.