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Handbook – School Procedures

School Eligibility Requirements

Age of Entrance

Age for admission to public schools has been established by the state. A child must be:

  • Four years old by September 1 to attend prekindergarten.
  • Five years old by September 1 to attend kindergarten.
  • Six years old by September 1 to attend first grade.

Application for exception to the age requirement may be made through the waiver or early admission processes.


A school-aged student is eligible to attend HCPSS if his/her parents or court-appointed legal guardians are bona fide residents of Howard County. Special circumstances may also qualify a school-aged student for enrollment within HCPSS. A child must attend the designated school in the attendance area in which he/she lives unless reassignment is approved or administrative placement occurs. If a student no longer qualifies for enrollment under Policy 9000, the student may be withdrawn. Tuition may be charged retroactively if, upon investigation, it is determined that a student was enrolled as a resident student, but lacked bona fide in-county residency. For more information, use the School Locator at or contact the Office of Pupil Personnel Services at 410–313–6747.

Physical Examination Requirement

Maryland law requires a physical examination for all students entering a public school for the first time. The required physical examination form is available at each school and on the HCPSS website. If a child does not have a pediatrician or primary care provider, the health services staff can assist with a referral. The school health assistant or nurse should be notified if a child has a temporary or chronic health problem.

School Procedures


The Maryland State Compulsory attendance law requires that children must attend school from ages 5 to 18. The Maryland State Department of Education has defined full and partial day attendance as follows:

A student is “present” or “attending” for a partial day of attendance if the student is attending an instructional program approved by the State, local school system, and/or school for 10% to 50% of the school day.

To comply with this new definition, middle and high schools will use these definitions to determine present or full-day/half-day absences:

Elementary Schools

  • The student is full-day absent if the student is present less than 40 minutes.
  • The student is half-day absent if the student is present more than 40 minutes but less than 3 hours and 15 minutes.
  • The student is present for the day if the student is present for more than 3 hours, 15 minutes.

Middle/High Schools

  • The student is full-day absent if the student is present for less than 40 minutes.
  • The student is half-day absent if the student is present for at least 40 minutes but less than 3 hours, 25 minutes.
  • The student is present for the day if the student is present for more than 3 hours, 25 minutes.

A note from the parent must be submitted to the school after the student’s return, indicating the date and reason for tardiness or absence from a regular school session. A doctor’s note is required in cases of long-term absence or excessive absenteeism due to illness. A note should also be submitted to request early dismissal or exclusion from activities (e.g., physical education). Chronic absences are referred to the Department of Program Innovation and Student Well-Being. See the Attendance Policy for more information.

Note: If a child has an excused absence due to behavioral health reasons and the family would like information about resources available through the school or community, the student or the parent can reach out to their school counselor.

Before and After School Care

Before and After Care is offered at all elementary schools and some middle schools. Care is provided by the Columbia Association (410–715–3164) or the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks (410‑313–7275). For more information, visit

Bus Transportation

HCPSS provides safe, reliable and efficient transportation to and from school for enrolled students living beyond a one-mile walking distance from elementary schools, a one and one-half mile walking distance from middle schools and a two-mile walking distance from high schools. Transportation services are provided for certain students with disabilities depending upon their special needs and school assignment as determined by the IEP team.

Students are expected to be at their bus stop at least five minutes before the scheduled pickup time, to exercise safe behavior on school buses and to adhere to the following rules, which are posted on each bus:

  • Follow directions from the driver the first time they are given.
  • Stay seated in your seat at all times while the bus is in motion.
  • Keep all parts of your body inside the bus.
  • Keep hands, feet, legs, arms, personal property and your voice to yourself.
  • No eating, smoking, drinking or vulgar language at any time on the bus.
  • Parents are encouraged to provide supervision at the bus stop. Unsafe behavior on the bus may result in temporary or permanent loss of riding privileges.

The HCPSS Student Code of Conduct provides a framework to support behavioral goals and disciplinary policies. All students are expected to be aware of and abide by this Student Code of Conduct.

Cameras are used on school buses. Video and audio recordings are used to assist in the investigation of complaints on school buses. For more information, please call 410–313–6732 or visit

School Meals

Lunch and breakfast are available daily to all students at all schools. All meals served are nutritionally balanced and adhere to the USDA regulations and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) standards. School lunch menus and nutrition information are available on

Policy guidelines have been established regarding meal charges and outstanding balances. Parents/guardians are responsible for school cafeteria account balances incurred by their student(s). Payment is expected in cash at the point of sale at the time of purchase or through the online prepayment system to the student’s school cafeteria account at any time. Parents can register and make payments to meal accounts at Please make every effort to maintain a positive balance in your account. Please refer to Policy 4200 for further meal charging information.

Federal eligibility guidelines change each school year. Therefore, a new application must be submitted each school year. Students from households that meet Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Participation in the Free and Reduced-Price Meal program qualifies students for many opportunities. One application may be used for all children in a household. Applications are available online at and are available in different languages. Non-English speaking families can also reach out to the Office of Multilingual Family Services for help filling out the application. Families are encouraged to use the online application for faster processing. A limited number of paper applications will be available at each school. Applications for free or reduced-price meal benefits are accepted anytime during the school year. All information is strictly confidential.

For more information about the Food and Nutrition Service program, visit or call 410–313–6738.

Homework Guidelines

The Howard County Public School System supports students in maintaining and extending their learning. The appropriate design, use, and evaluation of homework assignments, used to inform progress and provide opportunities for independent practice, are part of achieving that goal. If assigned, homework will be purposeful, appropriate, informational, and flexible. It is intended to extend learning and provide an opportunity for practice. Some courses or instructors may choose to not assign homework.

The appropriate amount of time that students are required to spend on homework is as follows:

Grades Pre-K–2

No more than 20 minutes of homework per night will be assigned. In Pre-K and Kindergarten there will be no assignments that must be submitted to the teacher.

Grades 3–5

Approximately one to four hours of homework per week is suggested for each student in Grades 3–5, with no more than 30 minutes required per night in Grade 3, 40 minutes in Grade 4, and 50 minutes in Grade 5.

Grades 6–8

For courses that are not for high school credit, each instructor may assign an average of, at most, one hour of homework per week. Not all classes will require homework. Some classes might require students to spend more or less time on homework than is typical.

Grades 9–12

For courses that are for high school credit, each instructor may assign an average of, at most, one and a half hours of homework per week. Not all classes will require homework. Some classes might require students to spend more or less time on homework than is typical.

All Grades

  • For the purposes of determining number of hours of homework per week or day, teachers should include reading of course material, studying of course material, and practicing skills taught in course (e.g., rehearsing a musical instrument). Time spent on long-term projects should also be included when determining number of hours of homework; however, these projects do not constitute homework for grading purposes.
  • Middle and high school teaching staff will be provided with opportunities to meet as teams to schedule assignments so that students do not regularly have more than one hour of homework each week per instructor. It is recommended that the school principal or designee work with teaching staff to facilitate this collaboration.
  • The goals and expectations for homework in high school credit courses will be clear and include opportunities for student input. As appropriate, flexibility and student choice will be considered in the assignment of homework duration, rigor, product, and weight in grading.
  • A syllabus is recommended for distribution at the beginning of every semester outlining each course’s requirements, including regular assignments, projects, possible due dates, and procedures for requesting feedback on assignments.
  • Teachers are required to ensure that homework is accommodated/modified as necessary in accordance with students’ IEPs and Section 504 Plans.
  • Teachers will provide feedback on homework assignments.
  • Homework may not be assigned or due on a day schools are closed due to inclement weather or unplanned closures.
  • Homework may not be assigned over the summer for any courses, nor winter or spring breaks for middle or high school courses.
  • A student may make up and receive a recorded grade for homework not completed due to the observance of a religious holiday. Students returning from a religious holiday observance will have an equal number of school days to complete make-up work.
  • Homework may be graded in Grades 6-12 but cannot exceed 10 percent of the total grade.

For more information, visit

Students’ Personal Property

HCPSS discourages students from bringing personal property to school. Students are responsible for their personal property at all times. This includes items that are relevant to instructional programs or extracurricular activities, such as personal electronic devices, musical instruments, or expensive clothing items. If students bring such items to school, they are responsible for storing them in a secure location. The school system is not responsible for damaged, lost, or stolen items.

Staff designated as an Authorized Searcher have the right to confiscate any electronic device seen during the school day if used in unauthorized areas or at unauthorized times. Staff designated as an Authorized Searcher may also confiscate personal property if its possession or use on school grounds or at school events violates system policies, procedures, or Maryland law. Staff designated as an Authorized Searcher take reasonable precautions to ensure property is secure until it is returned. Any confiscated property is returned to a student’s parent/guardian after a parent conference is conducted. Substances or items that are illegal to possess will be given to law enforcement officials or retained for disciplinary proceedings. Parents/guardians who have questions regarding lost or damaged student property should contact the Risk Management Department of the Office of Safety and Security at 410–313–6824.

Accommodations for Religious Observance

The Board is committed to promoting respect and appreciation for religions, beliefs and customs of its diverse school population. The Board is committed to providing reasonable accommodations for religious obligations.

If a religious observance requires a student to miss all or part of a school day, parents should complete the Religious Obligation: Request for Absence form and submit the request to the principal/designee documenting the need for the absence. Requests should be submitted, whenever possible, at the beginning of the school year. Absences for religious holidays will be considered a lawful absence either for the day or any portion of the day.

A student may make up work and receive a recorded grade when an absence for religious observance is approved. This includes opportunities to make up any missed tests or assignments.

Board policies related to religious observance apply to student participation in athletic practices and games, as well as other extracurricular activities.

Students are excused from attendance at, or participation in, any extracurricular activity when their attendance or participation conflicts with their religious observance. Athletic practices and events are optional for students on any religious holiday.

School Holidays

Maryland State School Law requires that public schools be closed on the following:

  • Thanksgiving Day and the day after
  • Christmas Eve through January 1
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • Presidents’ Day
  • The Friday before Easter through the Monday after Easter
  • Memorial Day
  • Primary and General Election Days

For more information, see Policies 9010 Attendance, and 3000 Religious Observances.

Resolving School Concerns and Disagreements

When concerns arise, parents and guardians are encouraged to direct their concerns to the persons most closely involved. However, when an informal process fails to provide resolution, a parent may file a formal complaint to seek review at a higher administrative level. In both processes, the intent is to protect the confidentiality and preserve the dignity of everyone involved. Concerns may be submitted by parents, guardians, custodial parents, or students. For the purposes of this process explanation, all complainants will be referred to as “parent.”

For information regarding the formal concern process, visit: Additional information on accommodations, appeals, and requests under the Maryland Public Information Act can be found online at


The Ombudsman serves as a neutral party to collaborate with Howard County Department of Education staff and the community. The Ombudsman may advocate for a fair process and fair administration only.

Services of the Ombudsman include:

  • Confidential discussion of your concern to the extent possible.
  • Referral to individuals who can help solve the problem.
  • Referral to appropriate school system and community resources.

The Ombudsman is required to follow Board of Education policies and procedures, and treat all parties fairly (See Policy 2030: Ombudsman). The Ombudsman does not have the authority to change policy or force schools to take specific action.

The Ombudsman may be reached:

At the Department of Education, 10910 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City.
By telephone at 410–313–6850.

If you do not speak English, an interpreter may be requested.