Local schools struggle with lost class time due to storm


As students stayed home from school today and maintenance crews continued to chip away at the monumental task of clearing snow-clogged school grounds, some school officials worried about whether the loss of class time this week would leave students unprepared for coming state exams.

"As of Friday, we were right on the cusp of having problems. Now, we're way over that," said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

From an instructional standpoint, closures caused by snow this week mean bad news. Students have only this week and the next to prepare for the first round of Maryland School Assessments to be administered the first week of March.

"Every bit of time the students lose, it just makes it a little more difficult," Grasmick said.

Preparing for tests isn't school systems' only problem. Most have burned through the snow days they have budgeted and must choose between shortening spring break or extending the school year further into June to satisfy state requirements for the amount of time students must be in school.

Officials could seek a waiver from the state Board of Education, which would likely grant requests if Maryland continues to operate in a state of emergency this week.

"We're very liberal about that because it's really the governor saying it's too dangerous," to go to school, Grasmick said. "We would not encourage school systems to open."

Despite persistent efforts by road crews and custodians, many school officials said it appeared unlikely that schools would open tomorrow.

Administrative offices also were shut down today and school board meetings canceled.

"This is snow you can't just push away," said Charles A. Herndon, a spokesman for Baltimore County schools. "It actually has to be scooped up and moved elsewhere."

Some of the 100 maintenance workers for Baltimore County schools spent yesterday assisting the county in clearing public roads of 2 feet of snow. The rest of the staff plowed the entrances to the system's 162 schools, Herndon said.

Crews in Anne Arundel County followed a different tactic: they started out from their headquarters in Pasadena and fanned out to surrounding schools, clearing one before moving on to the next.

"It's going to take two solid days of pretty intense plowing," said Ed Almes, maintenance supervisor for the county's 117 schools.

Aside from clearing driveways and parking lots, maintenance staff have many other duties - making sure that sidewalks are cleared, storm drains are ice-free, boilers are functioning and water pipes haven't burst.

"I shudder to see what this storm will do to our buildings over the next week," said Mark Smolarz, chief operating officer for Baltimore City schools. He added that the extent of the damage to some of the district's aging buildings won't be known until the snow starts melting and boilers are cranked up.

Carroll County schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said he was concerned about school roofs. A greenhouse at North Carroll High School collapsed under snow, officials said.

The schools' snow-clearing fleet, mostly pickup trucks fitted with blades, was overwhelmed by the snowfall. "So we need to wait for the county plows or when they release their contractors, maybe we can get them," Ecker said.

In Howard County, the schools' small maintenance staff, which includes five trucks, planned to work throughout today to clear snow.

In Harford County, school officials said they would work nonstop to clear snow from the system's 50 schools. "Our goal is to be ready when the roads are ready," said schools spokesman Donald R. Morrison.

Sun staff writers Liz Bowie, Tricia Bishop and Jennifer McMenamin contributed to this article.

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