School Closures Pose Challenges For All Involved

BERLIN – With at least four more school days lost this week and a decision still pending on today as of late yesterday, Worcester County’s public schools have now gone well beyond their allotted inclement weather days, pushing the end of the year closer to the end of June.

County schools were closed on Monday and Tuesday because of the aftermath of the major winter storm that struck the region last weekend. The second major storm in five days, and the third in two weeks, was then closing in on the mid-Atlantic, forcing school officials to cancel classes on Wednesday and Thursday, and although yesterday was bright and clear, road conditions around the county likely cost the school system Friday as well.

In the aftermath of the Jan. 29-30 storm that dumped as many as 20 inches of snow on the region, Worcester County schools were closed the following Monday and Tuesday. The closures came on the heels of a scheduled two-day closure for teacher professional days and marked the third and fourth inclement weather-related closures of the year. Worcester County had allocated three weather-related closure days in the 2009-2010 calendar and the closure last Tuesday surpassed that number moving the end of the school year back from June 15 to June 16.

However, with back-to-back major storms last weekend and mid-week this week, four more school closure days have been added, moving the end of the school year back to at least June 20 with a decision still pending about Friday.

“Our school calendar included three inclement weather days and we’ve now accrued six,” said Barb Witherow, public relations coordinator for the county school system on Tuesday, before Wednesday and Thursday were wiped out by the mid-week blizzard. “As it stands now, the end of the school year has been tentatively moved back to June 18.”

State law requires students to attend school for 180 days, while teachers and administrators are required to put in 188 days. The state Board of Education has the power to waive unscheduled school closure days, especially if the governor declares a state of emergency, which has happened on different occasions during the four major snowstorms across the state in Maryland this winter.

Given the epic nature of the winter storms this year, it appears likely the state will waive at least a few of the days school systems across the state have missed, but no decision has been made. Worcester County, like all other school districts, can appeal for a waiver for the closed days, particularly if a state of emergency was declared, but again, no decision has been made yet at the local level to seek a waiver.

While adding days to the end of the school year is the easiest option, it is also likely the least popular. Another option is to review the remaining school schedule to see if there are any opportunities to get a couple of the days back at Spring Break, for example. The county school board will likely weigh the different options at its next scheduled meeting, according to Witherow.

“This is going to be very challenging for us,” she said. “We’re already looking at June 18 or even later depending on what happens this week. Our summer school academies are scheduled to start on June 21, and we’re flirting with pushing back toward that date already.”

While three major snow events in Worcester County in about two weeks is certainly unusual, it is not unusual to have school closure days into the end of February and even March, which could complicate the school calendar even further.

“We’re in the process of this story and the final chapter hasn’t been written yet,” said Witherow. “We still have a good chunk of winter yet to unfold.”

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