Already faced with making up three school days lost to snow and ice, the Carroll County school board voted last night to revoke next week's holiday break -- sending children to class on Presidents Day and the staff-only day that had been scheduled for Tuesday.
As part of the 3-1 vote, the board also agreed to ask the state Board of Education to waive the third snow day the school system must recoup.
If that request is rejected, county board members will send students to school April 8, which was supposed to be the system's first day of spring break.
"Seat time is just seat time. We need learning time," board member Laura K. Rhodes said, discounting the value of added days in June. "Where we need the added seat time, where we need the added instructional time, is now."
Rhodes joined board President C. Scott Stone and board member Thomas G. Hiltz in voting for the proposal, which had the support of the school system's two largest labor unions, together representing more than 2,500 teachers, instructional assistants, guidance counselors, secretaries and nurses.
Worrying that revoking the Presidents Day holiday "is kind of close and last-minute," board member Susan G. Holt voted against the plan.
She instead expressed support for Superintendent Charles I. Ecker's recommendation to use April 8 as a makeup day and to tack two half-days onto the end of the school year.
Board member Gary W. Bauer was absent.
The vote came at the end of a lengthy debate on how to best recoup time lost to inclement weather, with state assessments bearing down on teachers and students and with 37 more days of winter -- and the inherent possibility of more snow days.
Classes have been canceled eight times this school year due to inclement weather, including because of Tropical Storm Isabel and rain-induced flooding, as well as Maryland's more common culprit -- snow, ice, sleet and freezing rain.
With four snow days built into this school year's calendar and the state Board of Education deciding in Isabel's wake to waive one of the 180 days required of public schools, that left a deficit of three days -- so far -- for Carroll schools to make up.
"There is no good solution to making up lost days," Ecker told the board and the dozens of parents and staff members who crammed the board room to hear the panel's decision.
Ecker said that more than 1,300 employees, parents and students answered his invitation to comment on the debate by e-mail, letter or fax on ways to make up this year's extra snow days.
"One thing was loud and clear: People did not want to extend the school day," he said.
But several board members also expressed concern over Ecker's recommendation to recoup lost time by adding two half-days -- June 14 and 15 -- to the end of the school year.
"I don't think any learning is going to take place and some indication of that is that they would be half days," Hiltz said. "They would be place markers. ... One of my last options would be to tack days on to the end of the school year."
As a result of the board's action, professional development activities scheduled for Tuesday for elementary and middle school teachers will be held March 2, primary election day, at schools that are not being used as polling places.
Because of the extensive agenda of parent conferences and activities scheduled for Tuesday afternoon and evening at North Carroll High School, students there will be dismissed early that day.
"There are some logistical and financial burdens" of the plan approved to recoup the snow days, Stone said, "but excessive snow days always create a burden."
Reluctant to continue with what has become an annual encumbrance of publicly contemplating how to make up extra snow days, board members and the superintendent also suggested that the 2004-2005 school calendar be re-examined.
Ecker said school officials would consider whether more snow days should be built into future calendars and will look at the possibility of pre-emptively laying out in the calendar how additional snow days will be recouped.
In one of the lighter moments of the meeting, Philip Grapes, a Liberty High School senior who is the board's student representative, attempted to put into context for the panel's adult members what had seemed a grueling and taxing debate.
"Just remember, people get all worked up about it, but it's not that big a deal. ... I think everyone would love to have a whole week of school," he said, alluding to the many weather interruptions. "So, whatever. Whatever happens is fine."