January, 2015: My alarm sounds and I jolt up, stiff from the frigid winter air. Fingers crossed, I snatch my phone. C’mon, c’mon…the MCPS website won’t load fast enough…please be red…any second now, a short message will reveal my fate; what the next 24 hours hold in store. A glimpse of crimson text announcing that “Montgomery County Public Schools are closed[!!!] today due to emergency weather conditions,” and I melt into a puddle of happy relief. I drift back off to sleep, never having opened my curtains to admire the stillness of a snowy morning…
Several months later, beneath the gleaming rays of June’s sunshine, my wintertime luck will catch up with me. This year, MCPS students will attend school for one additional day, cutting into summer vacation.
Maryland requires 180 days of instruction in public schools. Montgomery County Public Schools scheduled 184 days this year, four extra in case of emergency snow days. This year, we tumbled out of the county’s safety net, encountering seven days off. Interim Superintendent of Schools Larry Bowers requested a waiver of all three days. The State Board of Education demanded effort towards compensating for missed instructional time, so Bowers revised his letter to request a waiver for two days. State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery granted the revised request. On Monday, March 30th, MCPS announced that the school year will extend by one day to end on Monday, June 15th, for a total of 178 school days. On Wednesday, April 1st, MCPS reported that final exams will be pushed back by one day. Monday, June 15th will be a makeup exam half day, which most high school students will not attend (but they will now attend school on Friday, June 12th.)
Adding one day is an unreasonable solution. A state requirement of 1,080 hours of elementary and middle school and 1,170 hours of high school per year accompanies the 180-day rule. According to the MCPS waiver request, every year, MCPS schedules 1,137.5 hours for elementary school, 1,229.5 hours for middle school, and 1,234.5 hours for high school. Even if the State had granted the waiver for all three days, MCPS would still have exceeded the hour-standard. Clearly, the county fulfilled and surpassed the instructional time requirement–MCPS evidently treasures its students’ education.
The county will spend approximately $700,000 on this additional day. With such a substantial cost, I would hope that this extension is more than a token gesture to appease advocates of more instructional time. It appears that this solution will harm students, parents, and staff alike.
School year extensions are always unpopular among most students. Teenagers would rather see a movie, go for a swim, grab an ice cream, or take a hike than spend another seven hours antsy inside a steaming classroom. One extra day in school will not significantly increase exam review time. Many classes are already back on track as students often work on snow days to keep up with reading schedules and upcoming quizzes. Plus, AP and IB exams remain scheduled in May before the make-up day, leaving teachers to cover all of their courses’ material in the same amount of time regardless of school-year extensions.
The decision upset many parents as well, especially those of elementary and middle school students. Monday, June 15th will be a mandatory school day for these younger students, interfering with many vacation and summer camp plans. Families of high school students who must make up an exam face the same problem.
From administration’s perspective, the 2014-2015 school year has proved financially difficult for MCPS. This extra day adds expenses to the costs already incurred for snow removal in the winter.
So, if not by extending the school year, how should Montgomery County deal with snow days in the future? The easiest and least costly option is to leave the schedule as originally planned, whether the total number of school days is less than anticipated or not. Snow days are not a disturbance to students, but a breather from a year-long grind. Students operate with dangerously high stress levels; the occasional break only benefits them. In 2010, MCPS dealt with nine snow days and did not make up a single one.
When the number of days off gets excessive, students can stay on task with their studies from home. Teachers can email students from Edline.net with the day’s assignment or inform them otherwise. In the Pascack Valley Regional High School District in northern New Jersey–a district clearly plotting to destroy the joy surrounding the snow day–students spend days off logged into virtual classrooms.
While this solution seems exorbitant, social media certainly provides promising alternative-solutions to making up instructional time.
For all these reasons, adding one extra day is not the right solution. But no matter what Montgomery County decides after the conclusion of the winter season, nothing will change the elation and relief of snow days.
Article by the MoCo Student Staff Columnist Zoe Nuechterlein of BCC High School
Graphic by the MoCo Student Staff Graphic Artist Aashna Pradhan of Richard Montgomery High School