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Did MoCo Overreact By Closing Schools Today?

My phone's ringing off the hook as Montgomery County parents vent about another sudden closing of public schools by a system that seems to grab almost any opportunity to toss a wrench into parents' daily routines.

The school system announced just before noon that it is closing schools two and a half hours early today because some schools are without heat or water because of the massive water main break that turned River Road into a facsimile of its namesake this morning.

Unquestionably, the disaster has had a powerful and difficult impact on some portions of the county. And running a school without water can lead to some inconveniences.

But parents say those problems pale next to the havoc caused by the system's sudden closing. Takoma Park resident Steve Davies says he got the word about the closing through the county's emergency phone system, which left a message on his voice mail. So he was there when the bus arrived this afternoon, but some of his neighbors hadn't checked their voice mail and so their kids came off the bus with nowhere to go--and that's exactly the story I'm hearing from elsewhere around the county as well.

The theory behind the closing is that schools are not equipped to conduct class in buildings that lack heat or water, particularly on such a cold day. But this is sloughing the problem off on parents, who are most likely in the very same situation, given that most younger kids live in the same neighborhood as the school that's suffering from lack of water. And at least according to latest reports, large portions of the county still have heat and water, so those parents are being dragged home from work for no reason except the county's usual excuse about how if the buses run in one part of Montgomery, they have to roll everywhere.

So: Was the system right to close schools on short notice? Was the word spread quickly and widely enough? Should the schools have turned themselves into shelters for those who don't have water and heat at home?

The schools have an obligation to keep kids safe, of course, but my sense is that the safest place for most children in the middle of the day is at school, even if it gets chilly inside. Sending kids home to empty houses and forcing parents to rush home in the middle of a traffic nightmare hardly seems like public service.

By Marc Fisher |  December 23, 2008; 2:42 PM ET
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I don't have kids so this didn't affect me the same way as others. But I did get a huge laugh after the PA announcement at my work announced at 2pm that MC schools would close 2.5 hours early at 12noon... uh, 2 hours prior to the announcement.

I think utilities (WSSC) have some sort of plan in place to inform businesses of water problems. It probably would have been best in the MC schools worked within that system to get out the message that the schools would close.

But, yes, they should have closed. The kids can wear jackets indoors and they'll be warm enough to do their work. (I went to public schools in N. Carolina, Missouri and California and I always had the week of Xmas and New Years off... I guess I had fewer snow days to worry about?)

Posted by: prokaryote | December 23, 2008 3:20 PM

Yes, the schools should have closed. With no heat or water, the schools were not adequately prepared to deal with all situations. Yes, the conditions at home may be the same, but individual parents have many more options than teachers watching roomfuls of kids. Parents can opt to take their children somewhere else (be it a friend or relative's home or to a business like a movie theater or mall) or can make individual arrangements. Additionally, parents can react to new crises much easier when they are one-on-one or one-to-a-few rather than one-to-many like the teachers and school administrators. To me, I can't imagine that this decision was close. If any one of the thousands of children in the school system was hurt in such a way that they could not be adequately cared for without heat or water, there would be a hue and cry over how they should never have kept the schools open when they couldn't care for the children. I admire the MoCo school system for being more responsible than the parents who are complaining.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | December 23, 2008 3:29 PM

They overreacted. The schools my kids went to were not affected by the water main break. Why close the entire county system when only a few schools were affected?

Posted by: dkf747 | December 24, 2008 9:09 AM

The real question is: What will the MoCo government do to prevent this from happening in the future? Will floods be outlawed? Will all children be required to pass a bladder holding test before entering Kindergarten? Are there any new taxes that could be levied?

Posted by: ChesapeakeBeach | December 24, 2008 9:51 AM

I would bet a decent amount of money that some of these same parents that are complaining here would be threatening to sue the school system if their kids were "held" in schools with no heat or water for an extra three hours. It's a no win situation, and MoCo did the best they could.

Posted by: vtavgjoe | December 25, 2008 2:20 PM

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