SEABROOK – Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) officials remain confident that their remaining school calendar will stay intact with four weeks in winter remaining after closing school due to inclement weather on Feb. 19.
The closing, due to a snow and ice storm, was the second day PGCPS close institutions this school year due to inclement weather.
However, Senior Public Information Specialist Lynn McCawley said the county’s decision to open two hours late on most weather events, passed state legislation and schedule changes have made them easier for the county to keep the current calendar.
While most school districts decided to close for a second day on Feb. 20, PGCPS decided to open two hours late. The late arrival allows for the school to continue while not losing an instructional day that needs to be made up later, McCawley said.
“Most of the feedback seems to support the decisions that were made,” McCawley said. “A lot of that inclement weather made having delayed openings more adequate to address the issues.”
Three inclement weather make-up dates are built into this year’s schedule. That allows the county to have a soft end day with the remaining dates before June 15 to be used as makeup days if school is canceled for weather. Currently, the final day of school is posted for June 13 according to the county’s calendar.
In the past, the Board of Education would have to send a waiver to extend the year following an executive order by Gov. Larry Hogan in 2016 that forced school systems to end the year on June 15 and start after the Labor Day holiday.
That caused worries within the whole county last year as snowstorms raided the area throughout the winter and early spring.
The Board of Education almost removed days off spring break in order to ensure that students completed the federally-mandated 180 days in class while finishing class by the June 15 deadline.
However, legislation passed in March 2018 allows county education boards to add five days to the schedule without asking the state for a waiver for an extended year.
“The end date causes more of an issue than the start date,” McCawley said. “You still have to meet the 180-day requirement, but you have a mandated end date, that means you can schedule less professional days, and you have to cut back on some of the holidays that have been traditionally observed in our community.”
An internal calendar survey with parents and teachers conducted by PGCPS allowed the system to prioritize their dates even better to stay within the order’s limits, McCawley added. Maintaining spring break’s current structure of six weekdays was a “big ticket item” that received the most support.
Based on the survey data, Jewish holidays Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah that were celebrated in the past by the county did not receive much support and were ultimately cut as observed holidays since Hogan’s order went into effect.
There are still concerns on how the school system determines when they should call off for a snow day and how to take advantage of not needing to ask the state for a waiver.
Sara Tobar, 42, said it sometimes very hard for parents to drop their children off at school after a snow or ice storm. The mother of two said she saw a few parents fall trying to go down the hill where Woodridge Elementary School sits on due to the icy conditions on the sidewalks.
“If it is not safe for the kids to walk on, they should be closed,” Tobar said. “If they clean their own roads and sidewalks as well, then I am fine with keeping the schools open, but they need to make sure that safety is a priority first.”
Magali Peña Cabello, 19, said that more advance notice on the cancellations would also be helpful for parents to plan their travel schedules for the next day. She helps take her younger sibling to school with her parents and said the early notices this year have helped with planning around the weather to make sure they go to school.
“When they see the snow, they already do not want to go anyways,” Cabello said. “But not everyone can afford, and the advance notice can help people who work during the day plan their schedules better.”
With the new legislation looking to rescind Hogan’s order and give scheduling power back to the county school districts already passed the state Senate and is currently in the house, McCawley confirmed that the 2019-2020 calendar would not be released until a later date.