BALTIMORE – Students in Maryland public schools will not be required to make up two of the school days canceled because of bad weather, the Maryland State Board of Education decided Tuesday.
“This is an extraordinary winter in Maryland,” said Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools.
Grasmick’s plan, approved on a 9-2 vote, permits schools to observe the two days for which Gov. Parris N. Glendening declared a state of emergency, Jan. 8 and 9. In effect, it cuts the legal school year from 180 to 178 days.
School districts around the state have been dealing with the missed days in various ways. Some have extended the school day while others have held school on holidays. Sixteen of the 24 districts have added days to the end of the year.
But some board members argued that school districts need to budget more days into their calendars for weather-related cancellations.
“They’ve got to become more realistic. One-hundred-eighty days isn’t adequate to begin with,” said board member Harry D. Shapiro.
Board member Edward Andrews said, “People can handle this if they plan ahead and make tough decisions, such as holding school on holidays.”
Adrienne L. Ottaviani, another board member, said tacking days onto the end of the year is not the answer. “There’s not a whole heck of a lot of learning that goes on during those days,” she said.
Board members stressed that this year was unusual and that school districts should not count on the requirement being relaxed in the future.
“I do not want it to be assumed that any state of emergency will allow schools to receive a waiver,” said Christopher T. Cross, board president.
The board also heard an update on the Student Service Learning program, which requires students to complete 75 hours of community service or a state-approved “service learning” plan created by a local school district.
Students in the class of 1997 will be the first expected to meet the graduation requirement, which was approved by the board in 1993.
About 78 percent of the members of that class statewide are on track to meet the requirement, said Maggie O’Neill, director of the Maryland Student Service Alliance.
However, five jurisdictions — Baltimore and Baltimore, Garrett, Howard and Montgomery counties — are lagging, O’Neill said. The reasons are various:
– Montgomery County, where about 33 percent are not making progress, has an “excellent” program in place but is behind because of its large size, O’Neill said.
– Howard County has set up its formal program in middle schools, leaving students now in high school to take responsibility for meeting the requirement on their own, O’Neill said. Twenty-two percent of affected students are not making progress.
– Baltimore, where 87 percent are behind, other school issues are on the district’s front burner.
– In Baltimore County, 41 percent are behind. The district has begun to make students more aware of the requirement and has strengthened its partnerships with community organizations, O’Neill said.
– Garrett County has just begun to use a computer to track student progress toward the requirement, a development that O’Neill said should help school officials identify by name the 24 percent of students who are behind.
Tracy M. Tucker, the board’s student member, said she had informally surveyed state students and found they do not dislike the service-learning program.
“The general feeling … is not resistant when the program is organized,” Tucker said. “Students have a negative perception when they felt the program lacked guidelines.” -30-