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State school board approves waiver request for Baltimore County, but denies others

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County high school students will be allowed to go to school eight hours less this year than is required by law, after the state school board on Tuesday approved a request by the county to waive those hours.

Students in other counties — including Howard — weren’t so lucky. At the recommendation of State Superintendent Karen Salmon, the board voted down waiver requests by several districts to forgo one or two school days, making it likely those districts will have to extend the school year beyond June 15.

Board member Michele Guyton voted in the minority, saying it was unfair to require school systems to add school days after June 15.

“I think it is easy to sit here on the board and want to make a point and forget that we are affecting people,” she said. “I think it punishes the teachers and the parents. … I don’t see any discernible educational benefit.”

Guyton said her family was one of many that had planned to start summer vacation on June 16.

Many Maryland school systems struggled to squeeze the required number of school days into a snow-filled year while also complying with a mandate from Gov. Larry Hogan that all school academic years end by June 15.

Several area school systems shortened their spring break into a four-day weekend, while others held classes on the Monday after Easter or on President’s Day.

But school systems said there were too many days that schools had been closed for bad weather, from snow to wind storms, to meet the 180-day requirement before June 15.

As the snow days piled up, the General Assembly passed emergency legislation in March authorizing school systems to extend the current school year by up to five days, and Hogan signed it into law.

Baltimore County’s situation with its high schools was unique. The system built five extra days into its calendar to allow for bad-weather days, and used them all. While elementary and middle schools are on track to meet the state requirement, high schoolers would be eight hours short because their school day is shorter than most high school students’ in the state.

Baltimore County’s waiver, however, is contingent on the school system’s agreeing to lengthen the school day for high school students next school year.

John Woolums, director of governmental relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said the denial of waivers for Howard and other districts will force those districts “to run empty school buses and make meals for students who aren’t there.”

“The level of disruption and operational inefficiency will be unfortunate,” he said.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lizbowie

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