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Posted at 1:11 PM ET, 01/ 8/2010

Tread carefully when snow flies

By Valerie Strauss

Read the opposite side of this debate, from Class Struggle blogger Jay Mathews, by clicking here.


A few words to those parents who are griping because their kid’s school opened late this morning or was closed for the day: Knock it off.

It has become almost a sport among people I know to complain every time the weather turns lousy and school system officials decide that conditions are severe enough to alter the regular school routine.

“The snow barely touched the ground,” you might hear.

“It was only a dusting.”

“They are such wimps. Washington doesn’t know how to handle snow. You should see how they do it in Pittsburgh.”

Or New York. Or any place that is not Washington.

Enough already, folks.

School officials make decisions, perhaps with an overabundance of caution, not to mess up your plans or rob your children of valuable learning time but because they feel they have to.

There are safety considerations,ones you may not understand because you are only looking at your own neighborhood to see the impact of the snow. You don't know what happened elsewhere in the county.

Montgomery County, Md., for example, is a really big place. There are a lot of rural roads that snow plows may not have cleared early in the morning. Highway ramps can be deceptively and dangerously icy. Just because your street is clear very early doesn't mean everybody else's is.

There are staffing issues; some of the adults in the school building may not be able to get in because it snowed more in their area than in yours.

Yes, sometimes the wrong call is made. Tough.

Should individual schools have the right to make their own decisions? Maybe. If it is known for sure that nobody would be in weather-related danger getting there.

But while district officials make decisions for the entire district, I’m going to get my ire up for other kinds of wrong calls they make that have a far more lasting effect on kids.

And as for Washingtonians being wimpy about snow: Well, yes, we are. Old story. Been there and complained about it. Ad nauseam. Let’s move on.

Go ahead and tell me why I'm wrong.


Jay Mathews argues the other side in Class Struggle.

Follow my blog on the Post’s Education news fan page on Facebook or the PostSchools feed on Twitter. For all our news and blogs, please bookmark http://washingtonpost.com/education.

By Valerie Strauss  | January 8, 2010; 1:11 PM ET
Categories:  Parents  | Tags:  school closures, weather  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: P.E. humiliations can be lasting
Next: School snow delays -- Part 2

Comments

Sorry, Val, but you're wrong. Rarely is a snowfall a surprise anymore. Plan for it. This really has become a ridiculous situation.

Posted by: jckdoors | January 8, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

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 whereever 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.

Posted by: IndolentCin | January 8, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I support the delay. Waiting for a little sunshine can help the buses navigating the backroads, can allow people to clear their walkway's for children going to the bus stop, and can also allow time for schools to make sure their isn't more coming. It may not have been much, but guarantee there were many fender benders this morning - it was slick out there!

Posted by: amylorr1 | January 8, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

The delay made sense. If nothing else to allow roads to be treated in an effort to maximize safety to transport children to school.

Many of the roads where children resided are within neighborhood communities and those same streets are not treated until major highways and commuter routes.

Safety First especially when it comes to children.


Posted by: TwoSons | January 8, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

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.

Posted by: jzsartucci | January 8, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

corrections to prior post "sorry"

The delay made sense. If nothing else but to allow roads to be treated in an effort to maximize safety to transport children to school.

Many of the roads are within private residences and school bus routes are within residential communities. Those same neighborhood streets are not treated for snow until AFTER major highway and communter routes.

Some of high schoolers are at the bus stop as early as 6:45-6:30 am and the roads were with snow (and snow still falling in some places).

Safety First especially when it comes to children.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 8, 2010 2:41 PM | Report abuse

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. There is also the issue of the school buses having to travel on side streets to pick up children. I wouldn't want the job of having to make the call one way or the other. Somebody is never going to be happy with the decision to close, go late, or dismiss early. As long as the call is made in a timely manner I am good. There is nothing worse than getting the kids up and dressed and off to school only to get to work and have to turn around and come right back home. Several times the school system made the call to open school and then had to close as soon as schools opened. Everyone says Washingtonians are snow wimps. To me this is all the more reason not to have the children out and about. People drive crazy in this area on a good day. Add snow and ice and to me it is just not worth the risk of our child's safety.

Posted by: enewton | January 8, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Undeniably there are rural parts of MoCo. But this county wide decision making is baffling. First of all, a county-wide school system is in and of itself weird; I never encountered such a system until I moved here. The rural midwestern county I grew up in had THREE independent school districts. And even within those separate school districts, snow days were always on a school by school basis.

I now live in the relatively urbanized part of MoCo, and we're talking distances of only a couple of miles on major thoroughfares that get plowed first. At our elementary school, there's only 1 busload of kids; the majority of them walks or is dropped off.

The time wasted is enormous relative to the actual risk. Anything so illogical is simply indefensible.

Posted by: Wallenstein | January 8, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

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.

Posted by: jzsartucci | January 8, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

________________

Exactly jzsartucci.

The Lawyers were absolutely correct.

Minimize levels of liability and maintain the priority of safety.

PGCPS and surrounding school systems hopefully learned from the mistakes METRO. Public safety was compromised because of cost & convenience and lives were lost.

Thank you for continuing to maximize the safety of my children being transported to school PGCPS to include staff and teachers.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 8, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

jckdoors is 100% correct. Closing or delaying school should be a last resort, a reaction to an unforeseen and/or unaddressable problem. Snow in the winter time is hardly that.

We are trying to fix the wrong side of the the problem - instead of delaying school, why not anticipate the extratime/delays needed to deal with the snow. Wake up an hour earlier to dig your car out and get to work, learn how to drive in the snow (not impossible nor a new skill, everybody north of DC seems to manage, in much worse conditions), help your neighbor, etc...

Accidents may happen, lawsuits may ensue...let them. At what point do stupidity and safe transportation conditions distinguish themselves? If drivers do not factor in the snowy & icy conditions and drive normally or speed, who is to blame? The conditions or the driver? Maybe then the area will finally learn how to handle our comparatively trivial winter.

Posted by: WheresMyCoffeee | January 8, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

My children are past being school age, but safety has to come first. There are too many idiots driving on the roads after a snowfall thinking they can still go just as fast. They create many extra dangers to school busses. How many parents who say start school on time with a little snow on the ground will be the first to sue if their child is on a bus that is involved in a snow related accident caused by one of the less than careful drivers? It is a hard decision to close schools, but many counties are large and have different ammounts of snow depending on the area. A school system cannot open some of the schools on time and others later as the bus schedules are carefull coordinated and this would mess up the busses.

Posted by: MAHA432 | January 8, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Must there be an all-or-nothing decision to shut down the entire district? Just loosen the attendance rules on these iffy days. If you live in a rural-ish area that gets hit hard by snow, keep your kids home. If you live in a high-rise a block from school, let your kids go. Even the freakin Federal government offers this kind of flexibility.

Posted by: georgewolfjr | January 8, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Have the districts here ever used a 1 hour delay? Given the amount of snow we had today that would have been a better solution than a 2 hour delay. Growing up in Pennsylvania, we often had a 1 hour delay when there was such a small amount of snow.

And to those who think that everyone gets out and clears their sidewalks for those of us who walk our kids to school, you are very wrong! We walk about 2 blocks and only about 3 houses in our subdivision had cleared the sidewalk in front of their homes by the time we went to school at 11am today.

Posted by: Lmsmith782 | January 8, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

You're wrong.

While I can understand Montgomery or Fairfax, there is certainly no reason for Manassas, or Manassas Park to be delayed. There is no reason for Alexandria or Arlington or Falls Church to be delayed.

But honestly, in this weather, there was less risk than if it was actually raining for the schools to be delayed.

Posted by: bagend | January 8, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

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: cpurcell@cavtel.net | January 8, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

@bagend - you are exactly right about smaller districts like Arlington having no reason to close. While walking in the Lyon Park neighborhood this morning, the snow was so shallow that I could easily see grass blades poking up. I noticed that Arlington had already done preventive salting, etc. when I walked home last night and LIKE MAGIC the roads this morning were clear. Even trekking on unshoveled sidewalks should present no trouble, given the tiny amount of snow.

As for the big districts like Fairfax and MoCo - give it up. No one else has districts the size of small states. Either break yourselves into districts that actually make sense or at least enact zones so that areas that are able to open on time do so.

Posted by: sciencegrrl | January 8, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I understand that Montgomery County covers a large area but the overwhelming majority of students do not live in the rural areas which may experience somewhat more problems with snow. Instead, they live in Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville and other suburban towns. If everyone else in the county is expected to travel around normally (albeit somewhat more cautiously), it does not make much sense to me for a much different regime to be instituted for students.

One might say that safety is compromised to some extent each time one leaves home. Is not education of sufficient value to warrant a different balance?

Posted by: Cassopolis | January 8, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Jay, not everyone lives in Bethesda. Maybe you can come up with another bogus Index to measure the snow effect.

Posted by: MDcrab1 | January 8, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

As someone who comes from a northern climate, I'm shocked by the hysteria and unpreparedness of Washingtonians with respect to winter weather. It's as though you are seeing snow for the very first time, every single time it happens.

School districts shouldn't have 2 hour delays, ever. They should simply tell parents to use their best judgment and bring their children to school as soon as they feel it is safe to do so.

And yes, I also think that closing the schools in Vienna because the roads are bad in Great Falls is stupid.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | January 8, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

I've lived in MoCo long enough to be surprised that this snow did not close the schools entirely! I think "only" a two hour delay is an improvement! For this particular snow it may have been the right decision since it stopped snowing and conditions did improve during the delay. One reason this area needs to be cautious is that traffic is already some of the worst in the country even in the best of weather and any little weather event causes paralysis. I agree that making the decision based on smaller geographic areas probably makes sense as seems to work elsewhere in the country, but that probably won't work unless each area has its own set of buses. I also think we underestimate the ability of our kids to walk through a little snow. If you close the school, the kids are out in it anyway!

Posted by: JDI800 | January 8, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, but any delay for this is absurd. Typical top-down, one-size-fits-all bureaucratic mindset. Either close schools completely (in the case of a major storm) or keep them open. I don't understand what benefit a delay gives; someone enlighten me. People have to get to work at a normal time, so, to the extent they shovel walks anyway (not a given in this area) those would already be shoveled, no?

Instead of delays, leave it up to parents' best judgment about sending their children to school. Just be forgiving about late arrivals or absences on days with inclement weather. Tests may be made up for the minority who miss them, but don't hold back the majority who can surely get to school, and on time.

If MoCo insists on a delay policy, then at least institute weather zones of some sort. Clearly northern and western MoCo gets more severe weather conditions than southern, which is also affected by the urban heat island. Why must elementary schools in Bethesda and Chevy Chase be delayed just because conditions are hazardous up in Poolesville or Damascus? So maybe you have a zone A, B and even C and D, and sometimes you have weather that affects only certain zones while other zones remain open on time.

I agree with Obama - we need some flinty Chicago toughness!

Posted by: jay4811 | January 8, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I have been a student and a parent and a grandparent for 65 years and find that the concern over snow days is fairly recent. Is it because parents now believe that schools should be for the convenience of the parents?

Posted by: judy11 | January 8, 2010 3:26 PM | Report abuse

Be careful what you wish for, Jay.

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 cummute by spreading out the traffic over a longer period of time.

Posted by: BamBamRubble | January 8, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I am astounded at the idea that a 2 hour delay is such a huge instructional issue. I don't want to lose that time with my students too often but it is far from the end of the world. More time than that is wasted regularly through nonsense (cumbersome attendance procedures, waiting for PE or music teachers to be ready for a class, etc.). If we care about instructional time we have much bigger fish to fry.

Posted by: Jenny04 | January 8, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse

As I drove to school, within 2 blocks of the school, I had a difficult time stopping. It was slightly downhill, I was driving quite slowly and carefully, but yet the car just wanted to slide down the street. I was glad that the oncoming drivers were careful also, and had stopped to allow me to pass.

Posted by: jacquienina | January 8, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

All it takes is one car to lose control on ice (from neighborhood roads that have NOT been treated) to hit a child standing at a bus stop. I commend the decisions of the school systems for being proactive in keeping my kids safe. While it may have only been an inch of snow on the ground, the temps were falling this morning and creating an icey situation. I drive an SUV, but my 4 wheel drive didn't stop my car from sliding through a stop sign and onto a heavily traveled road at 8:45 this morning.

Posted by: nicknemm | January 8, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

It would be interesting to know how many people who voted "no" currently have children enrolled in public school.

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? So...it'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?

Wow Jay...I thought you liked kids.

Also...drivers within DMV in rain or snow are much "different" to put it mildly.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 8, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

I agree the 2 hour delay should be in effect for the rural areas like those in Loudoun County, VA and Frederick County, MD. These areas have old country back roads, many of which are dirt or dirt and rocks, and it does become pretty slippery, but the more urban areas should not have issued the delay.

Keep in mind last month in Winchester, there was a fatal accidnent involving a school bus, when a car slid on ice and hit the bus. The driver of the car and the young daughter passenger were killed. No one on the bus, Thank God was injured. I'd much rather have the school board be this careful in regards to the welfare of it's students rather than not. I surely do not want any parent to have to deal with the loss of a child because someone made the incorrect decision regarding weather delays or closures. There is no such thing as being to careful when you are trying to save lives.

Posted by: bshepp | January 8, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

I agree with this statement: "The school delays help EVERYONE who has to cummute by spreading out the traffic over a longer period of time."

Posted by: krisburg79 | January 8, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

You don't want to put a school bus on a slippery road with maybe a less than experienced driver with our most precious cargo do you? It's a challenge driving when the roads are clear. We all know how it is in bad weather. Schools made the right call.

Posted by: haysgirl66 | January 8, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

I know I may be biased being originally from Buffalo, NY, but 1-2 inches of snow is no excuse for delays anywhere in the country. Ice on sidewalks and the dark are concerns? Maybe school should just be shutdown for all of the winter then. And the people who can't stop or control their vehicles in this little bit of snow should probably just stay home for the day. And a simple math problem for some: a 4x4 just means 16 times more likely to go in the ditch.

Posted by: MMaskul | January 8, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

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: mgribben | January 8, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Count me as another person who is baffled by the idea of county-wide school districts, period.

And yes, I do think it's a mistake to close schools for 1-2 inches of snow. The DC metro area needs to get over this idea that they don't get snow here -- you do. Your local and state governments need to prepare for it. You need to pay taxes so that it can be taken care of. I think it makes much more sense to close schools for bitter wind chills -- you know, the kind we were having earlier this week? -- than for a little snow. All you parents talking about your poor children who walk to their bus stop in the dark and can't see the ice, were you making the same case for closing school when your kids were standing in sub-freezing temps, waiting for the bus? Do your kids have a heavy winter coat, hats, and gloves? Or do you think they don't need those because you live here?

Middle school and high school students can survive a slip on the ice just fine. It's standing around at the bus stop that I'd be much more concerned about, waiting for a bus that could be delayed by poor road conditions.

Posted by: BuffaloGal78 | January 8, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm from Pittsburgh and this snow is nothing, but that's not the point.

The point is, as a prior post mentioned, a mother and daughter DIED because of road conditions that involved a school bus.

It's absurd idea to close school for the winter because of day light saving, again that's not the point. The point is a that school systems are 100% responsible for the public safety while transporting children to their respective schools. It's their JOB to be responsible in making decisiions to minimize danger and maximize safety of individuals who are powerless aka children.

Posted by: TwoSons | January 8, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

By the way, we had over 3 inches in the Colesville area of Silver Spring, not the 1-2 everyone keeps referring to.

Posted by: BamBamRubble | January 8, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Oh please! First, in the statement, Washington does indeed get snow! If you are referring to Washington DC...than state so...A lot of folks are here from Washington and want to laugh (and I do and I am not for Washington) every time you call Washington DC Washington (Washington IS a state and children can get confused too)! Second, Washington DC does indeed get snow too (all be it not that often) and the bus drivers are trained for this type of driving (snow and ice) so, the children should be safe as long as the reduction in speed and length between vehicles is being followed all will be fine. Most everyone learns in driver's ed that in inclimate weather you need to take caution and adjust your speed and length between (I know most do not do that on a daily basis here). Third, unless there is a blizzard, no heat, water break and so on, school SHOULD be on as usual. We are talking about VALUABLE LEARNING TIME!! As for the teachers who live out of the district or area? Tough on you!! Get up early and get out the door! The News Anchors, Traffic Anchors and Weather Folks are up, out and on air for you to know what the conditions are AND if they CAN MAKE IT IN to work...So CAN you! You teachers accepted the position and accepted in the area you did knowing that you may have to deal with inclimate weather!! GROW UP AND DEAL WITH IT!!
Do not get me wrong, I am compassionate...I grew up in snow and we had areas that were not plowed for a few days just like here, but we carefully drove to and from schools and work and had not incidents. Leave with plenty of time and adjust your speed and car lengths and all will be fine. Never slam on the brakes and drive erratically. No big deal!! We had snow days and delays when it snowed like the last snow storm with the twenty one inches, not this mere dusting...

Posted by: Bunnies | January 8, 2010 5:25 PM | Report abuse

One reason they delay the school buses which was not mentioned is that it gets most of the buses out of rush hour also.

Posted by: bw437 | January 8, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

As long as FCPS deems a 55 mph road (123/Ox Road in the southern part of the county) to be a good and safe bus stop, I'll take the snow delay for safety.

Posted by: LuanneOOO | January 8, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

All day long, school buses were stuck on side streets all over Fairfax County. The vast majority of side streets were slick and dangerous. I saw a school bus come to a stop to pick up a student - and watched in horror as the bus, in park, proceeded to slide another 20 feet on what was at most a 10 degree hill. It was that slick and dangerous.
If adults would clean the streets and sidewalks, buses could get into the neighborhoods and get the kids to school - but they don't. Perhaps Mr. Matthews would like to start a movement to get ADULTS to act like adults when it comes to snow.

By the way, many students take the bus far outside their neighborhood. The special ed kids may be driven 15 miles to the other side of the county to get to school. It is not as easy as it might appear.

Posted by: gimmegirl | January 8, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Valerie must live in the West Springfield H.S. boundary as she alluded to a bomb incident. I disagree with her as the FFX County School District covers a very large area. Roads near FFX Station and Clifton are narrow and twisting. The same goes for the roads near Great Falls. We're all in the same district. Maybe the solution is to divide up the district so that we don't ALL have to abide by the worst case areas.

Posted by: missingwisc | January 8, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

By the way, Fairfax County Public Schools transport 120,000 students - twice a day. That's more than Greyhound.

Posted by: gimmegirl | January 8, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Why is closing the schools viewed as a no-risk alternative? The older kids don't stay home studying, they're at the mall or the burger king or smoking in your back yard, or in your basement drinking your liquor and having relations while you're at work.

Bet we'd all be surprised at how many very young kids get left home alone with poisons, drugs and guns while mom and dad have to work. Wal Mart seldom closes on account of snow.

But this doesn't factor in to the school system's risk calculus, it's everyone else's problem.

Posted by: dimeshiner | January 8, 2010 7:54 PM | Report abuse

I'm one of those annoying people that is not from DC and complains about the wimpy people here not being able to handle the snow. I am also a parent and am passionate about keeping children safe. In most cases, I agree with the superintendent's decisions, but the one last night was utterly ridiculous.
Your argument about large counties only holds weight in large counties! A place like Arlington County - there is really not going to be any difference in the weather throughout the county and this morning there was not a DROP of snow on most streets by 7am.
In Arlington County, we have already used our 3 allotted snow days. We have some built in holidays they will take away next, if needed, and then we will tack time on to the end of the year, which is already JUNE 25!!!
More importantly, our kids need to be in school.
I don't know what time the call for the 2 delay was made, but I think it was a bad call.

Posted by: chrissieclarke | January 8, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

I live in Fairfax County and at 9,a.m. when we would leave for school, it was very, very icy. It was still pretty icy at 11 a.m.. I think the two hour delay was prudent. We are normally walkers to school and both walking and driving would have been very difficult. Significant melting happened by 11 and even more by noon, when my son's bus came for him to go to afternoon pre-school. The bus never could have made it out of cul de sac at 8 or 9 a.m.

Posted by: elizestrada | January 8, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

Safety of my children getting to school vs. my inconvenience of getting to work on time.

That's a no brainer.

Thanks PGCPS for thinking of my children and their safety first and thank you Valarie for pointing out the obvious.

Posted by: PGCResident1 | January 8, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse

Thank you PGCPS for assuring the safety of 130,000 students remained priority and thank you Valarie for pointing out the obvious.

Posted by: PGCResident1 | January 8, 2010 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Can people have forgotten the disastrous snowfall of the winter of 1986-87? Prince Georges County officials didn't move fast enough to close schools as a surprise blizzard developed. Kids and teachers were marooned on buses and in schools OVERNIGHT, and then, of course, the schools had to be closed for the next couple of days.
Montgomery County, on the other hand, acted early that day and everyone got home before dark.
Do you really think that the snow gets cleared from parking lots and walkways instantaneously? Has it occurred to you that it can be very expensive if a number of teachers fall in the school parking lot and have to be absent (and substitute teachers hired) while they recuperate? The school system has to pay for all that.

Posted by: jrsposter | January 9, 2010 7:05 AM | Report abuse

also... its cheaper to close schools than to deal with the lawsuits that come from people that slip on ice.

Posted by: someguy100 | January 9, 2010 8:27 AM | Report abuse

In the winter of 1989-90, a teacher of German at Seneca Valley High School in Germantown died on the altar of starting school on time no matter what. Her name was Colleen Hunter, and she was a young mother of five children. On the icy roads that morning, another vehicle crashed into her car and she died.
Fortunately, in another incident involving a school bus in a serious collision that morning, no children were injured because there were none on the bus at the time.
Since then, the leadership of the Montgomery County Public Schools has done a good job preventing unnecessary deaths by either delaying or closing school when driving conditions were potentially dangerous. Should the high and mighty self-righteous Jay Mathews be successful in persuading them to take chances with the health and well-being of students and teachers, I hope everyone will recognize his responsibility for any recurrence of a tragedy like the one involving Colleen Hunter.

Posted by: jrsposter | January 9, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

As usual, Jay Mathews opines without knowing. His main concern is that, supposedly, "the time missed in class gets the lowest priority."
Actually, Jay, that is just not true. In fact, time missed from class has such a high priority that extra time is built into the school calendar to make up for just such contingencies in advance.
That is why, in order to ensure that Maryland's requirements of 180 days and 1170 hours of high school (1080 hours of elementary and middle school) are met, Montgomery County schedules four additional days into the school calendar. In a particularly bad winter, the school calendar also stipulates that days will be added on at the end of school, (with no additional pay for employees) in order to meet the state's requirements.
Other local jurisdictions simply run school until they have had the 180 days, and then they shut down, meeting only the minimum. In good weather years, however, Montgomery benefits from four extra days of school. Why, Jay, aren't you giving credit for that?

Posted by: jrsposter | January 9, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

I am a teacher and I walk to work. I am also an adult who understands cars, trucks, buses and physics. Neither my street nor any sidewalks were cleared Friday morning. Every surface except the treated roads were slick. Should a child have to compete with rush hour traffic? With the delayed opening, traffic was minimal and the school staff had time to clear the stairs, walks and lots. Good call, area Superintendents!

Posted by: grandfam | January 9, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Montgomery County, MD, gets snow. So does Montgomery County, OH, where I live. In fact, we are on almost the same latitude. The difference between the Montgomery Counties and other areas, such as New England or Chicago, is predictability and humidity. The snow at this latitude is not the white powdery stuff that you ski on in Vermont--it may start or end with sleet or freezing rain, it may be large, wet flakes, or it may be several inches of a light powder--or all of the above before the storm is ended. And we may get the predicted amount, be buried by a blizzard, or have none at all. In our last snow, just this week, we had a light powder that was handled with salt, melted and turned to slush, and then froze overnight in temperatures too low for the salt to be effective. The next day some suburbs got 4 inches and some only got 2.5 to 3--sometimes neighboring suburbs differ by an inch or more.

Years ago, a relative, vacationing in Maine, asked how they handle their terrific snowfall. "It's predictable," his source replied. "If the forecast is for 6 inches overnight, we get 6 inches overnight. Everyone makes arrangements to go home or stay home until the streets are clear. In the Midwest, you may have 6 inches predicted and you may not get any, so you can't do the same thing." My mother's school once closed in mid-day because roads in the area were impassable; at her house, 7 miles south, we had not had a flake all day.

By the way, I think the Post once ran an article on the weather. The Weather Service said it is very difficult to predict weather in the area along U.S 40 (and I-70) because weather systems meet in this area and a slight difference in air pressure or something determines whether a storm goes a few miles north or south.

Posted by: opinionatedreader | January 9, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Don't forget the school staff, many of whom live outside of the county, or state that need to travel to school. The moment there is a accident and a student is injured, people will understand why the county makes the decisions it does.

Posted by: shellbe2 | January 9, 2010 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Cancelling school or delaying it is a tough call, no doubt about it. In this area, it seems like the conditions become icy when it snows, and that's more dangerous than just snow.

However, I agree that there should be room for variations in opening/closing in such large school systems with varying weather conditions.

Often, the private schools in urban areas follow MC's school closing/delay decisions. So the affect of MC is wider than just MC schools.

I might add that people in this area drive like idiots even in the rain, so instead of cancelling school because people are bad drivers, perhaps more traffic law enforcement is needed.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | January 10, 2010 7:08 AM | Report abuse

There Mathews goes again -- giving his opinion from on high. Come visit the up-county in MCPS, and see the roads with snow cover and crazy drivers attempting to go 50 miles per hour - a very dangerous situation indeed.

Posted by: truthteller11 | January 10, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

The delay means less cost to the county because of injuries... I missed 10 weeks (yes, WEEKS) of school after breaking my ankle on the snow and ice covered school parking lot on December 5, 2007. This was a day where the county should have called a delay, but didn't. Then the building service workers didn't have time to treat and clear the lot before the staff arrived. I would rather have a delay than the pins and plate in my ankle. Since it was a work related injury the county paid my salary plus medical treatments. We also had a teacher killed getting to school one year in MCPS. Better a delay and everyone safe and ALIVE at the start of the day than a single person injured or killed.

Posted by: ehrlichk00 | January 10, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

I live on Long Island and serve on my school district's transportation committee. Our school district does NOT have delayed openings. Either the call is made to open the schools or close them for the day. The decision is made by the bus company in conjunction with the superintendent. In twenty years, I can only recall one instance when the decision was wrong. The weather was severely cold over the weekend and on the Monday morning, many of the buses were not working. Children were left on curbsides by working parents, not realizing the buses were delayed by hours, or in some cases, not coming at all. Parents, including myself, scooped up children and brought them to school. Now, the bus company will have the drivers come in hours early, on frigid days, to start the buses to make sure we never have a situation like that again.

Likewise, we have only had early closings on a handful of occasions. 9/11 was the last time I remember us having an early closing. The protocol is to have a site "open" so parents who cannot get to the school early, can still rest assured that their children are in a safe location. The school district takes very seriously an early closing. There are too many concerns to mention in a post why an early closing is NOT advantagious.

The bottom line is, if the weather is going to be a factor during the day, either the call is made to open the schools for the full school day, or not open the schools at all.

Posted by: 1voraciousreader | January 11, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

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