Montgomery schools ready new snow waiver request -- Gazette.Net


Montgomery County Public Schools on Tuesday prepared a request to waive four days of instruction lost due to wintry weather, after its five-day request was denied Monday.

State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery denied the school system’s original request in a March 26 letter because it “does not demonstrate an effort to modify the school calendar to make up for lost instructional time.”

In a Tuesday letter, Starr submitted a modified, four-day waiver request that, if accepted, would involve the school system adding one day to the school year and changing Easter Monday from a holiday to an instructional day.

Starr sent another letter to Lowery on Tuesday asking for permission to make Easter Monday an instructional day.

Lowery said in her March 26 letter that she would consider a modified request from the school system.

The state requires school districts to hold 180 instruction days.

While the school system built four snow days into its calendar, county students have had 10 days off this school year because of snow.

In its first request, the school system had asked the state to waive five days — the maximum number of days the state allowed school districts to request.

The system had planned to add one day to its calendar if the waiver was accepted.

Dana Tofig, a county school system spokesman, said the school system weighs the effect of adding school days when considering a waiver request.

“It is a balancing act between wanting to make up meaningful instructional time and respecting the existing schedules that our students, staff, families and communities already have in place, including jobs, internships, camps, and more,” Tofig said in an email.

As of Tuesday, Lowery had responded to waiver requests from four counties, including Montgomery, Anne Arundel, St. Mary’s and Carroll, said William Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.

Lowery denied Anne Arundel’s request and accepted St. Mary’s and Carroll’s, he said. The three counties had also asked for a five-day waiver.

Reinhard said, as of Thursday, the state had received 15 waiver requests.

Following the state’s denial of the school system’s first waiver request, city governments were bracing to possibly change their plans for summer camps.

Jan Golden, a recreation program supervisor for the city of Rockville, said the city currently is scheduled to start its first camp session the Monday after school lets out.

“It’s a big concern to parents,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of calls.”

The city, which runs some of its camps in county schools, will delay its summer camps if the school system extends its calendar and work with each family as needed, she said.

Golden said she couldn’t remember a year when the city had to adjust its summer camps to a longer school year.

In Gaithersburg, the school system’s situation “could affect us quite a bit,” said Tim “Smitty” Smith, chief of the city’s youth and senior services division.

“We’re just sitting and waiting and seeing what they might do,” he said.

The city uses four school buildings during the summer, Smith said, and isn’t able to occupy them until a few days after classes end due to professional time given to school staff and cleaning activities.

While some recreational camps can start late without a problem, certain speciality programs that include projects require the full week, he said.

Gregory Clark, director of the Takoma Park Recreation Department, said added school days would not affect the city’s summer camps, which start June 23 this year.

The city has built in a week-long “buffer” in between when school ends and when city summer camps begin in case bad weather translates to a longer school year, Clark said.

Susan Burkinshaw, health and safety committee co-chairwoman of the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, said she thinks the county school system made the right calls when it closed schools on the 10 snow days.

Speaking as a parent, Burkinshaw said she would like to see the school system find “creative” ways — such as adding minutes to some school days — to make up for the lost instructional time within the currently scheduled school year if the school system does not submit another waiver request.

There are cost implications for the county when school days are added as well as morale issues, she said.

“I can’t tell you how relatively unproductive those days are,” she said.

Shruti Bhatnagar, whose two children attend Piney Branch Elementary School and Takoma Park Middle School, also said she would like to see the school system work within the existing school calendar to make up for the snow days.

A decision to extend the school year could have financial and other effects on families, she said, citing the example of parents who might have purchased tickets for a vacation.

Bhatnagar, who is a Montgomery Blair cluster coordinator but was speaking as a parent, said a couple parents approached her who were interested in providing feedback to the school system about the situation.