- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Students in St. Mary’s are attending school Monday, Presidents’ Day, as a snow makeup day and since public schools were closed Thursday by the weather, they will likely also be going to school on Friday, June 13, a day later than originally planned.
The St. Mary’s school board approved the change at its Wednesday morning meeting as the board and school superintendent, like others in the state, scrambled to make up the higher-than-usual number of school days missed this winter.
As of Thursday, St. Mary’s schools have been closed eight days because of the weather. Five makeup days were already built into the end of the school calendar. Monday, Feb. 17, had been scheduled as a day off school because of the federal holiday. And classes will be held May 2, which previously was scheduled to be a professional day for school staff.
If another makeup day is needed, Monday, April 21, the day after Easter, could become a school day.
Superintendent Michael Martirano said he is trying to maintain spring break as much as possible. Students would still get a full week off in April, as of now.
Martirano said he might request a waiver from the Maryland State Board of Education to allow schools not to make up days missed this week, especially since Maryland was under an official state of emergency as declared by the governor. School districts are expected by the state to hold classes for 180 days a year.
“That’s not anything that’s a done deal,” Martirano said of a waiver.
“We’ve had an absolutely challenging winter, so far, in terms of weather,” Martirano told the school board after a budget hearing, when he unveiled his plan for making Presidents’ Day a school day. “We always err on the side of caution,” and cancel school for the safety of students on buses and in cars, he said.
Several other school systems in Maryland have already said they will use Presidents’ Day as a makeup day, he said.
“As many people that say one thing, you can be sure as many people will say another,” Martirano said Wednesday before the school board voted to hold classes next Monday.
Martirano said he had requests from parents and teachers asking to avoid any adjustments to spring break, and he said he agrees such changes should be a last resort. Many families already have vacations scheduled in the spring, he said, and high school students often visit colleges during that time.
“There are no easy answers,” school board member Cathy Allen said.
Allen reiterated Wednesday that it is important to show the state superintendent that the school system is doing what it can to stick with the mandated 180 days of instruction for students.
She said it is better to make up the days now than during spring break or at the end of the school year after exams and other testing are long past.
School board member Mary Washington said she had read 49 emails related to the calendar change sent to the school board over the last week. “I sincerely apologize for negative impacts” on students, parents and school employees from holding classes on Presidents’ Day, Washington said. “We won’t be able to make everyone happy.”
“Sorry, and the board is sorry that we cannot accommodate every individual in the community,” Sal Raspa, board chair, said. “We do as much as we are allowed, given legal constraints.”
Student board member Peter Widmayer, a senior at Chopticon High School, said it makes more sense to have makeup days in advance of big tests like the Maryland School Assessments, Advanced Placement and High School Assessments, rather than being tacked on to the end of the school year.
Days tacked on at the end of the year, Widmayer said, “are not used as tactically as they could be.”
He said he had planned to visit colleges next Monday, but that he will have to change his plans. “When the wind changes, you have to change your sails,” Widmayer said, reciting a quote from a mentor of his.
Anna Laughlin, president of the Education Association of St. Mary’s County, said she initially received many concerns from teachers who said they already had plans for Presidents’ Day, including doctor appointments, or they did not have any child care available that day.
She encouraged them to email their concerns to the school board and superintendent. Laughlin said it seems the superintendent listened.
The superintendent “took the needs of employees into account,” she said.
Martirano said it would be up to principals to decide “cases of hardships” put forth by teachers requesting Monday off.
Martirano said any given day as many as 150 to 160 school employees might call in sick. So far, he said, there have been as many as 180 requests to take off next Monday.
“It’s not anything unusual from what we’ve dealt with in the past,” Martirano said of the requests for substitutes made by school teachers so far. There have been as many as 300 requests off on certain days in the past, he said.
“If you tried to make everybody happy, you’d make nobody happy,” board member Marilyn Crosby said.