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Posted at 8:18 PM ET, 01/10/2010

School snow delays -- Part 2

By Valerie Strauss

Many of your comments about the wisdom of opening schools late on Friday because of snow served to solidify my thinking that complainers should give it a rest. In fact, I wish I had thought about some of the points you made.

Hours after the snow stopped falling I wrote that school systems make decisions to open late or close schools out of legitimate safety and staffing concerns. Sometimes they blow the decisions but I’d rather they err on the side of caution.

My esteemed colleague Jay Mathews took the other point of view, saying that precious instructional time was being given short shrift.

The first of dozens of comments was from jckdoors, who said, “Sorry, Val, but you’re wrong. Rarely is a snowfall a surprise anymore. Plan for it. This really has become a ridiculous situation.”

I thank IndolentCin for responding:
“The problem is that even if they know it’s coming, they can’t plan for it because we don’t get enough snow often enough to have the resources to deal with it like Pittsburgh, or Providence, or wherever gets a ton of snow every year. I live in PG county (also a huge county), and my daughter is riding a bus for the first time this year. Neither she nor I have complete confidence in the drivers (sorry, but there it is), so any extra precaution in this area I find not to be a bad thing. And no, I am NOT an over-protective parent. In fact, a lot of the helicopter parents I know are horrified by me at times because I’m not. But I am careful.”

I tend to agree with some of you who think school principals should have leeway to keep neighborhood schools open if they think they can be safely staffed and kids could get to school (though that would mean a change in the bus system). But right now most can’t, and we have to deal with what IS, not what we wish it to be.

Thanks to everyone who joined the conversation. Here are additional reasons some of you gave to support the late openings (some of them are excerpts of your comments):

Posted by enewton: My daughter rides the bus however she has to walk to a little ways to get to the bus stop. Though it was not much snow this morning the sidewalks, steps, etc were very icy even when we were leaving 2 hours later than usual. Not to mention the children who walk to school.

Posted by I support the delay in Fairfax County for one reason: daylight. My high schooler has to walk two blocks to catch the bus at 6:30 AM. He can’t see the sidewalk to miss the snow and ice at that time of day. My middle schooler has to cross the main road in our subdivision to catch his bus at 7:20. The two-hour delay allows them to catch their buses in daylight, rather than dark. If the SLEEP advocates had persuaded the school board to go to later starts, I’d say the delay was ridiculous. But in the dark, in the ice, I’m glad FCPS made this call.

Posted by mgribben: I would normally be on the side of you could go to school on time today. But, my car slipped and slid in my neighborhood in North Prince George’s County (adjoining Southeast Montgomery County) as I drove my daughter to school at about 10-10:30am. I thought traffic would be light because most people would already be at work. I was flat out wrong. Traffic was miserable and I saw about half a dozen emergency vehicles along the way. One was struggling to get through 4 jam-packed lanes of traffic on the beltway at 10 o’clock in the morning! I think the conditions were worse than they appeared on the surface.

Posted by TwoSons: I’m from the north so snow isn’t a big deal. But aren’t we talking about 300,000 students (MoCo & PGC combined) and a the vast majority of them ride the school bus?’s okay to put this volume of children on sidewalks (with patches ice underneath) to get to their bus stops, school buses on untreated snow covered roads, while snowing and within zero below temperatures, and the dark?? (which is the case for most high schoolers) instead of waiting just a couple of hours for most if not all of these safety hazards minimized?

Posted by BamBamRubble: Our roads are never more than a couple of accidents away from gridlock on a good day. Add a couple of inches of snow or ice without subtracting the school buses, teachers, and parents driving their children to school, and you are asking for trouble. The school delays help EVERYONE who has to commute by spreading out the traffic over a longer period of time.

Posted by jzsartucci: Don’t forget to include a big factor in clearing the snow. There are 551 classrooms that are outside of the school buildings in Montgomery County. They are called classroom trailers and they have multiplied under Superintendent Weast.
Each of the walkways and ramps to those 551 classrooms has to be separately shoveled. That takes time. Even when the parking lots and roads are clear, the schools can’t be opened until the paths to the outside classrooms are shoveled.

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 10, 2010; 8:18 PM ET
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  school delays, weather  
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It doesn't matter which side you choose on snow delays and closings - there will be people lining up to say either Washingtonians are wimps or list all the reasons schools should've been closed/delayed that day.

One thing complainers seem to miss is the county has to make a decision by 0530 for two reasons: to give students, staff, and faculty enough notice of a delay/closure, and to give parents enough notice for them to make alternate day care plans if necessary. Obviously, with high school aged children, delays or closings are not a problem as most parents would trust their kids to behave themselves. If we use the Fairfax County Child Protective Services guidelines,, then any child 7 years or younger should not be left alone. That is K-2 for most kids. The guidelines recommend not leaving kids aged 8-12 home alone if school is canceled.

The county needs to make a decision by 0530 based not just on what snow or ice is on the ground at that time, but how much more (if any) is expected that morning. Strangely, people don't seem to comprehend that it takes time to plow, salt, or sand roads and that marginal roads at 0530 will become dangerous by 0630-0645 (when a lot of high schoolers catch their buses) with as little as 1/2 inch per hour accumulation. That leaves a fair sized margin for error if the weather clears earlier than expected.

Giving parents enough notice to make alternate arrangements is very important. A lot of employers don't take too kindly to the "I'm an hour late because my kids' schools opened late and I had to make other arrangements" excuse. Or the "I had to take a sick day to look after my kids" excuse. As a former FCPS student I remember, back when we had a one hour delay in the playbook, a day which started with schools opening on time. Around 6 a.m. a one hour delay was announced. When I got to the bus stop the bus driver told us the delay had been increased to two hours. When I returned to the bus stop an hour later the bus driver came up and said the word had just come over her radio that school was canceled.

Needless to say, the hate and discontent caused by that comedy of errors was substantial. Parents were dropping their kids off at school only to race back when they got the word (and this was before widespread cell phone usage) - twice.

Personally, I think the county should err on the side of caution and on the side of not causing huge inconveniences with parents. Make a decision, make it early, and stick with it.

Posted by: SeaTigr | January 11, 2010 1:03 AM | Report abuse

I am proud to say I grew up in the Tidewater area of Virginia and am smart enough to relieze I do not know how to drive in the snow and do not want to. As long as I have cat food we can manage with the abundance of food in the fridge and pantry. I do not want the children in our metro area to be exposed to all those from "up north" where snow "is no big deal". It is a big deal and be need to quit whinning and deal with it. I am sick of hearing about it.

Posted by: mrscopeland | January 11, 2010 10:29 AM | Report abuse

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