Assistant Superintendent Roger L. Plunkett has recommended lengthening Howard County public school days by 15 minutes starting in August to bring the school system into compliance with state instruction regulations, which haven't been met for years.
"This situation really is not new to us," Plunkett said during a Board of Education meeting Thursday.
He added that the "considerable discussion" on the topic - much of which developed from a Sun analysis last month showing Howard high schools are 42 hours short of state-required class time - gave him good reason and "opportunity to move forward" to address the problem.
Plunkett said the adjustment would also help balance schedules throughout the county and offer equal instruction and planning time at all schools, something he's favored for some time.
But others, such as board member Sandra H. French, fear that lengthening the school day - adding five minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon - will mean more children will be walking home in the dark during the winter, when the sun sets earlier.
She also questioned why the lower grades would have a longer day when it was the high schools that aren't in session long enough.
Plunkett said shifting the schedules of all grades would avoid $430,000 in extra transportation costs, which would be necessary if only the high schools' schedule changed. He could think of no cost associated with longer school days for everyone.
"I just don't see it as that big of a deal," said board Chairwoman Courtney Watson, who has two young children in Howard schools. "I would encourage the public to let us know what their thoughts are."
The board will hold a public hearing on the recommendation Jan. 22 at its headquarters.