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Snow cancellations spur county board of ed. to seek waiver

3/20/14 | By Clara Vaughn, Staff Writer/Ocean City Today

NEWARK — In a winter riddled with icy roads and snowstorms, Worcester County Public Schools have closed nine days for snow so far.

“Polar vortex is a dirty word in my house,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson.

But students and staff could see an earlier start to summer than expected, thanks to calendar modifications and pending approval of a waiver request to the state superintendent of schools approved at Tuesday’s meeting of the Worcester County Board of Education.

To get students out the door before Friday, June 20 — a far cry from the original last day of school of Thursday, June 12 — the board modified the school calendar this week. It added a half-day on March 28, the Friday originally marked as a professional workday that students had off.

After agreeing last month to make Thursday, April 17 — the first day of student’s spring break — a half-day, too, and considering the three snow days already built in the to original school calendar, that left officials with four more inclement weather days delaying the start of summer.

However, a waiver request in the works to be submitted to the state superintendent of schools for approval could forgive three of those four days.

Days the Maryland State Police and State Highway Administration declare states of emergency or snow emergencies are eligible for such waivers, said Coordinator of Public Relations and Special Programs for Worcester schools Barbara Witherow.

“That waiver would be based on the fact that Jan. 29, March 3 and then yesterday (March 17) the Maryland State Police, in conjunction with the State Highway Association, declared a snow emergency day, which means that vehicles on the roads are supposed to be limited to those that have snow tires or chains,” she said.

“The last day of school, if in fact the state superintendent did approve that, would be the 13th” of June.

The board approved the motion to seek a waiver. If the state superintendent grants it for all three days, Wednesday, June 11, will be Worcester students’ last full day of school with the June 12 and 13 both half-days before the official start of summer.

“We’ve had a very difficult winter,” said Chief Operating Officer Louis Taylor at Tuesday’s meeting.

“It was hard, I’m not going to lie,” mother of two Deserie Lawrence said last month, when her daughters Mackenzie, 9, and Madison, 10, stayed home several days almost immediately after Christmas break due to the slurry of snow.

At first, her girls were excited for the free days, but as the reality of a shortened summer set in, “they were petrified,” Lawrence said.

“We live at the beach, so for them, the minute it starts warming up, they immediately start thinking about how our days are going to be filled with sand,” she said. “It makes it kind of difficult.”

The snow caused so many closing across the region that the State Department of Education extended the window for Maryland School Assessment (MSA) testing earlier this month.

Snow had already delayed end-of-semester exams for Worcester County high school students, who were scheduled to take the tests Jan. 23-24, both days the schools closed for snow.

“It makes it challenging all the way around. We want our kids to be in school and we want them to be learning. Unfortunately these inclement weather days interrupt our instruction,” Witherow said. “We wish we didn’t have them, but we can’t be bringing kids in to school when the roads aren’t safe.”

Without the modifications, students in the county would lose six days of summer vacation, even after using the three snow days built in to the original 2013-2014-school calendar.

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