Balto. Co. teacher fill-ins hard to come by Late warning on holiday has some principals scrambling for substitutes


With only a few days' warning that school would be open Presidents Day as a snow makeup day, Baltimore County teachers and students scrambled to cancel doctors appointments, ski trips and family gatherings set for the long weekend.

And for the most part, they showed up in classrooms yesterday, though some schools reported unusually high absenteeism.

Last week's sudden notice sent some principals hustling to find substitute teachers. The fill-ins were even more difficult to find than usual, because neighboring counties had scheduled Presidents Day classes much earlier, tapping the scarce supply.

"A lot of people had arrangements for today that they had to cancel," said Patricia A. Mattson, principal of Baltimore Highlands Elementary School. "Everybody was disappointed. They certainly could understand the reason, but they would like to have had some lead time."

Presidents Day won't be the only holiday ruined this year by snow. Last Friday's snow day will force Baltimore County schools to open Easter Monday, April 8.

Next to go, should more snow blow this way, is Memorial Day. Call them cautious, or maybe pessimistic, but county administrators already are preparing lesson plans for that day to explain the significance of the holiday commemorating the war dead.

Several schools reported slightly higher absenteeism among students yesterday -- two to three absent per class, compared with the typical one to two.

A few were more deeply affected by family vacation plans. At Cockeysville Middle, more than twice the normal number of students was absent -- 106 compared with the usual 40 to 45.

But teachers generally rose to the occasion, even if it meant canceling trips.

About a dozen teachers at Arbutus Middle School originally had plans to be away. But in the end, the school needed only five substitutes, two or three more than usual.

"I have a dedicated staff who didn't want to leave their colleagues in a lurch," said Principal Linda P. Wilson.

All teachers at Bedford Elementary School showed up for work.

"They were concerned by the number of days that we've been absent and they were actually glad to be in school, believe it or not," said Principal Barbara A. Clark. "I have a lot of young teachers who come from the North, places like North Dakota and Michigan, and they're amazed that we close school so often for snow."

Though yesterday morning brought plenty of groaning, most principals said they would prefer a midwinter makeup to one in the summertime. "I certainly don't want to be going to school the Fourth of July," Ms. Mattson said.

To make up the 10 days of missed school this year, county schools will be open April 8, April 26 and June 10-14. Also, high schools will be open full days instead of half days the last four days of school.

The state Board of Education is considering a proposal that would excuse districts from the requirement to make up two snow days. If the measure is rejected, the county school board will need to schedule two more makeup days for high schools, which are required to be open more days than elementary and middle schools.

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