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Nuff Said: Look Who's Closed Because Of Snow

There's upwards of an inch of snow on the ground already, and--hold on to your hats!--there could well be two whole inches by the end of the day. So what's a school system to do?

Every single large system in the inner ring of suburbs decided to charge ahead with school today--except one. And which one might that be? One guess.

Yes, Montgomery County, closed again, alone again. (Some outer suburban counties have also closed, but there's more snow in Loudoun, Fauquier, Frederick and Howard than closer-in. Of course MoCo's administrators will argue that they must close because the outermost areas of the county are every bit as much out there in the snow zone as those outer-ring counties. Call this the Sugarloaf Mountain Conundrum.)

To Montgomery Superintendent Jerry Weast's credit, he has been fighting against the growing tendency to shutter the schools on any possible excuse. Just a few weeks ago, he tried (but failed) to keep the schools open on Inauguration Day, on the theory that yes, D.C. schools would have a hard time opening given the security and traffic issues on that day, but no, there was no special reason why Montgomery students couldn't watch the events on TV like the rest of the country. Alas, the school board caved to student and parent pressure and canceled school.

But snow--well, there's nothing quite like the special relationship that MoCo has to the horror of snow, even when it's a pretty but otherwise unremarkable weather event like today's (tomorrow morning is your actual trouble spot, thanks to expected overnight ice accumulation.)

So who's right here? Is Montgomery alone in its wisdom, or has it once again fallen victim to weather hysteria?

By Marc Fisher |  January 27, 2009; 8:28 AM ET
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Hysteria, but what else is new in the era of litigation instead of acknowledging accidents happen.

Posted by: Krazijoe | January 27, 2009 8:40 AM

Around here, kids don't get snow days for years, anymore. WHo cares if the kids get a day off? THeir kids. We've taken education and school to unwanted heights. Kids need time off, too.

Posted by: oo7 | January 27, 2009 8:44 AM

This is pretty absurd considering the worst of the storm isn't supposed to happen until after school lets out this evening, when it's supposed to start turning to ice. Sorry Marc, in the case of ice, schools should be closed, period.

What boggles my mind is that I went through the MoCo public school system, graduated only seven years ago, and they never used to shut down schools for no reason. The only overreaction I remember was during Hurricane Floyd, when we got the day off because it was raining outside. As a matter of fact, there were a couple of instances when schools objectively should have been closed, because of truly dangerous conditions (ice), where they stayed open.

Posted by: ASinMoCo | January 27, 2009 9:06 AM

Most school systems have a certain number of snow days they can use. Considering we simply don't get a lot of inclement weather around here, a snow day or two based on just minor snowfall isn't a horrible thing.

It does, however, hurt the parents who still have to go to work that day and their children aren't old enough to be left at home alone.

Posted by: brandonwcorbett | January 27, 2009 9:28 AM

You didn't mention that Fairfax County kids are already home today for a teacher workday, so we don't know what Fairfax would have done.

Posted by: johnsonshome | January 27, 2009 9:34 AM

Marc,

Why bother with this particular criticism? MCPS builds a certain number of snow days into its calendar, and there have been years when not all of them were used! How ya like them apples? And if you're a student or a teacher? How does it sound if you're a parent who is only concerned about getting away from your own kid(s) for most of their waking hours?

Why did MoCo close? Because all the draconian "reforms" being concocted and enacted suffer setbacks when too many students and teachers are injured or killed traveling between home and school. And, because if too many parents are stuck in traffic or have accidents of their own, then school officials are forced to tuck their tails and lick wounds they wouldn't have had if they had just closed the dern schools and let people choose their own fate in the inclemency.

Get over it already! Please! Washington DC is a transient area with a lot of southern transplants, foreigners who drive poorly even in the most ideal of conditions, and people who do not like to sit in traffic any longer than necessary (that's everybody!).

With our streets and highways too few, too narrow, and too crowded with traffic already, accumulating snow and ice is better left to melt than to be reckoned with.

Posted by: iphoenix | January 27, 2009 9:35 AM

My wife, a Fairfax County teacher, was really hoping that the snow would be tomorrow and Thursday since yesterday and today are teacher work days and the best that she could hope for was a relaxed time getting to work and no one seemed to mind being there as long as there were no kids to deal with. You can be sure, however, that FCPS will be closed tomorrow and might even have a delay the next day.

Posted by: skipper7 | January 27, 2009 9:37 AM

The response to the "who cares, snow days are built in" is that if you close for wimpy snow every time, sometimes you run out of snow days and the school year gets extended. It has happened before. I never understood why the entire school system needs to close though. How hard is it to separate the county into regions? Just inner and outer Beltway would be a start.

Posted by: koalatek | January 27, 2009 9:47 AM

When I was in High School in Fairfax County like ten years ago, we were in about the middle of the pack as far as school closures went and we still had a teacher break her wrist falling on the ice one non-snow-day-that-probably-should-have-been-one.

Posted by: OneElle | January 27, 2009 9:53 AM

Not as big a story as you make of it because Fairfax County kids are home today (administrative days off), there was no need for the Fairfax County School System to close its schools. Most likely, Fairfax would have closed as well.

Posted by: horned_owl | January 27, 2009 9:54 AM

The issue here is that all of these school districts are big, and to save them some time and effort they apply one set of rules to the whole district. When it comes to weather closings they should have zones or sub-districts to close. You don't need to shut down the whole thing, just what you need to.

Posted by: kolbkl | January 27, 2009 9:55 AM

"foreigners who drive poorly even in the most ideal of conditions"

Racist.

Posted by: Axel2 | January 27, 2009 9:56 AM

ASinMoco -- I dunno, I graduated from MCPS 5 years ago, and I remember school shutting down ALL the time for weather-related reasons, Floyd, being just one awesome example.

When I went to college in Boston, I'd tell my New England friends about how basically, two inches of snow or more=no school, and sent them into a jealous rage :)

Posted by: sarahlucy | January 27, 2009 10:13 AM

Those who are noting that Fairfax students already had the day off because of a teacher work-day are correct. But the system remains open and teachers had to report to work today, which is the relevant point for our discussion of snow days. In fact, Montgomery and other systems that are quick to shut their doors often argue that this is done in good part because of the difficulties some teachers face in getting to work, often from distant communities (the only places they can afford to live on teacher salaries.)

Fairfax has just announced it will end its teacher training programs at noon today.

Posted by: Fisher-TWP | January 27, 2009 10:14 AM

oo7... looks like education didn't do your body much good. Check out the difference between they're, their and there. They're kids, but school is what they do. :)

Posted by: lsac | January 27, 2009 10:22 AM

This morning, I drove from western Howard County, where I live, to Rockville, where I work. There is the same amount of snow in Howard County and Montgomery County.

Posted by: synk | January 27, 2009 10:23 AM

Marc - you forgot to mention my personal favorite. Remember a year or two ago when MoCo schools announced they were closing on the mere *threat* of a little snow? Lo and behold, the snow never materialized, not a single flake, but of course the schools had to stay closed by that point. Why they didn't make the call the morning of still mystifies me.

Also, I completely agree with kolbkl's comment above. I grew up in McHenry County, IL, which streches from the Wisconsin line to the outermost Chicago suburbs. We had independent school districts within the county that each made their own decisions on school closings (and many other matters). Makes sense for large counties in situations like this (but perhaps results in excess bureaucracy? Don't know).

Posted by: stodge | January 27, 2009 10:45 AM

If you need an example of weather hysteria please visit washingtonpost.com! Headline: Snowfall Threat Closes Schools
Snowfall Could Be Biggest in Years

Then, several paras in: The storm promised to become the region's first significant snow of the season, threatening the morning commute and expected to deliver one to four inches through the course of the day.

One to four inches!

Posted by: arl09 | January 27, 2009 10:47 AM

One solution for MoCo would be to create sub-districts or zones within the larger county. Maybe four quadrants would do it. The northwestern zone might be closed some days when the rest could function. Yes, it would mess with some grander schedules, but they already essentially have little zones with elems and middles that feed into specific high schools. It would just be an issue for some people who cross borders of the school zones. Lots of parts of the country have smaller localized school systems that don't cross so many weather system boundaries. MoCo could deal with it although I'm sure they'd find some issue of political correctness,etc to worry about.

Posted by: blankspace | January 27, 2009 10:54 AM

PG is now closing early. Southern Maryland counties are closing 3 hours early (it's still coming down at quite a pace here in Calvert).

Posted by: idiparker | January 27, 2009 11:07 AM

When I was a Montgomery County student in the 1960s, the MCPS had different school closing policies for the Up-County and Down-County schools. On some bad weather days, those of us south of Rockville would have to go to class, while students in Gaithersburg and the then-thinly populated areas north got to stay home. It worked then, why not now?

Posted by: BethesdaDad | January 27, 2009 11:11 AM

MoCO schools wwere closed on Monday and as such the grounds staff were unable to start the cleaning the day before as they generally do. Regarding Inauguration, Thousands of kids and parents were not content just watching Obama being sworn in on TV we wanted to be there. It was historically! and had significant meaning for minority families such as myself. We could always drop one of those other holidays that impact a small percentage of the school system.

Posted by: Angela | January 27, 2009 11:12 AM

For a thread related to education and schools, there sure are a ton of misspellings and poor grammatical choices...

Also, for reference--I went to MoCo schools in the late-80s and early-90s; in that time span we might have had 5 snow days, total. And that was in NoMoCo (Northern MoCo), which the county gov't. didn't even acknowledge its existence until 2001 (i.e. they didn't clear the roads). Funny how we could function in snow 20 years ago yet panic at the mere hint of it now.

Posted by: RightWinger9 | January 27, 2009 11:24 AM

I'm a transplanted 6th generation Floridian. I never even saw snow until I was old enough to vote. I've been living here since 1993. I live in Montgomery County and I work in downtown Washington. I to to work this morning -- albeit about a half hour late because I took some extra time to shovel and salt my driveway and steps. But if I made it, so can everyone else. Grow up! It's just snow, not acid falling from the sky!

Posted by: CAC2 | January 27, 2009 11:47 AM

I think the column is a little mean spirited. I'm an MCPS parent and yes, I wish we weren't held hostage to the weather in upper county, but it isn't that big a deal. I would note that the majority of systems that opened on time this morning are closing 2-3 hours early. In the end, I'm happy enough to have had since 5am to plan for my kids instead of having to scramble now that I am already at work.

Posted by: wyb3203 | January 27, 2009 11:49 AM

School districts make decisions regarding inclement weather based on many considerations. Better to close than to have a child killed when a school bus slides into a group of kids waiting for the bus. I don't always agree, but I wouldn't be held responsible if a child was injured because I decided to keep school open.

What a horrible comment "the school board caved to student and parent pressure and canceled school" (for the inauguration). Why would schools stay open and deprive children, staff and teachers from experiencing the most fundamental event of a democracy - the peaceful transition of power? Really!!! Attending the inauguration (or even watching it on TV) is a history lesson that can be lived, not just studied.

Posted by: DWinFC | January 27, 2009 11:56 AM

OMG, it's SNOWING! Fill the Hummer with gas! Rush to the store for toilet paper and bread! Close the schools and the government! We're doomed! Aaaaaaaiiiiiiieeeeeee!

Posted by: SilverSpring8 | January 27, 2009 12:01 PM

Another MCPS parent here. Looking around and seeing friends in other areas who used the first part of their work day to figure out if and when schools were going to close, wasted the middle portion rescheduling their afternoons, and are missing the last portion altogether, I'm having a hard time seeing why I'm supposed to regret the morning spent at home with my kids. I knew at 6 am that I was going to have to cancel everything today and was able to have emails in the right inboxes by the time most people made it into work.

And we're a two-vehicle, two-parent family, meaning we're about as flexible as it gets. I'd MUCH rather have the school day canceled entirely than have to completely change course halfway through the day.

Posted by: ckclarady | January 27, 2009 12:03 PM

Closing school on a mild snow day like this would be laughable if it weren't such a huge headache for parents. For families like our with two working parents, scrambling to find childcare the morning of, or taking a personal day to stay home with the kids, costs - in time and money. It's snow, not a biblical plague! Stupid is as stupid does I guess.

Posted by: jay4811 | January 27, 2009 12:09 PM

One problem with dividing up the county not mentioned yet is that not everyone goes to their neighborhood schools because of magnet schools, language immersion programs, etc. The fact some students were in class when others weren't would disrupt the course schedule. Parents who have children in different schools in different zones would face a huge scheduling headache as well.

Posted by: perhapsmaybe | January 27, 2009 12:54 PM

I'm happy to see that snow still thrills the natives. When I was going to college in the '60's,the snow removal equipment consisted of four guys with coal shovels on the back of a dump truck and I got to sleep in late because getting from home to Mass and Nebraska Avenues was considered too dangerous. Now that I live in Wisconsin, one of our whopper snow or ice storms followed by a few 20 below days makes me wax nostalgic for the damp of Foggy Bottom.

Posted by: Tawanda1 | January 27, 2009 12:57 PM

I'm from Pennsylvania and have been here for close to four years and it still amazes me how this area shuts down over one inch of snow. I can sympathize with parents, it is easier for me to schedule my day's activities when my kids are off the entire day than an early closing/late opening. Still, four inches is nothing. Ice on the other hand is a different matter. Better to have them in school today, the entire day and off tomorrow.

Posted by: s_bonner30 | January 27, 2009 1:14 PM

"It was historically!"

Oh dear.

Posted by: dcd1 | January 27, 2009 1:21 PM

The only thing worse than closing schools when many didn't think they should be closed, is having an early dismissal due to weather. Having everyone go to school, only to be sent home a couple of hours later is a logistics headache, for the school system and the parents. Montgomery County was obviously worried that the weather might get bad enough during the day to send people home, and rather than doing that, they decided to just close for the day, given that they have a few snow days in hand and it is late January. while many might disagree with the decision, the fact that other schools are closing early means that they might have actually got this right!

As for tomorrow, when it is ice that is the issue in the morning, that is tailor made for a 2-hour delay. Let the roads get treated and then send the kids. I'm expecting a 2-hour delay in MoCo tomorrow, not a full closure, but we'll see.

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | January 27, 2009 1:26 PM


The only thing more dangerous on the roads than the "southern transplants," myself included, is the northern transplants who seem to think they have the upper hand while driving in inclement weather. News flash... you have to SHARE the road, even with the "southerners and foreigners."

Posted by: luckymom | January 27, 2009 1:40 PM

I found this article to be a cold splash of reality, with a side of sizzle.

But it's true. My wife is at home today. I have to stop at the grocery store on my way home from work.

Posted by: kpcoppertop | January 27, 2009 1:42 PM

When I saw a RideOn bus fishtail on Second Ave in Silver Spring this morning, I knew Montgomery County Public Schools made the correct decision.

On the other hand, Charles County schools stayed open and there were major accidents and several school busses got stuck.

It's a judgement call. When snow falls at 7:30 am, it's too late to cancel school.

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. Half of the school district was in the snow belt. I grew up in the half that wasn't. We got plenty of snow days off where we got a dusting and our neighbors to the east got six-eight inches. Those days were the best. I got to stay home AND I didn't have to shovel the walk!


Posted by: mdreader01 | January 27, 2009 1:44 PM

Be careful comparing Montgomery County, Maryland to Loudoun County, Virginia. They are next to one another with only the Potomac River separating them (Sterling is across the river from North Bethesda, and Ashburn is about the same to the northwest as Rockville). Seems to me that they get the same amount of snow fall, with northern Mongomery County receiving more.

Posted by: Realist7 | January 27, 2009 1:45 PM

I'm from the west coast, and I have news for you...it's not just DC that freaks when there's a little bit of bad weather. I've seen other major cities do the same thing. Of course, I'm from a small town up in the mountains, and we didn't close school unless there was a couple feet of snow, and more often, if there was ice on top of snow. Frankly, around here, the inner beltway schools need to close because there are so many people who don't know how to drive in any kind of weather, and the outer beltway schools might actually have the excuse of more snow...at least north and west of DC.

In the end, it's the school's decision, and they'll do what they feel is best. No amount of grosing from the general public will change that.

Posted by: akchild | January 27, 2009 2:12 PM

If there is a choice between occasional days off when it snows, and investment in more snow-ready buses, more (unnecessary) parking lot and sidewalk clearing of snow that will be gone the next day, and more snowplows... count me in on approving the snow days. It is a sensible policy that most people in the region are comfortable with. In addition to the money tradeoff, it certainly reduces injuries and fender benders and keeps traffic flowing for everyone who does have to be out there.

I know that suburban parents will be shocked to hear me say it, but education is not a religion and the sacred altars of the school can remain untended for a day or two without anyone being struck by lightning. Stop being so uptight, relax, and enjoy the fact that humankind is not always in control.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter | January 27, 2009 2:17 PM

As mentioned by "perhapspmaybe", the intricate schedules of schools which includes the magnet and language programs complicates the matter of dividing school districts. I grew up in the "Upper Montgomery County" half and my kids go to school in this district now. Their language immersion school is north of their home school, possibly receiving worse weather than at home. It is not as simple as looking out the window and making a snap judgement. Many factors have to be taken into consideration, including the staffing, bussing and other logistics, not to mention the safety of the students themselves. I really don't envy being in Weast's shoes!

Posted by: traveler10 | January 27, 2009 2:17 PM

FairfaxVoter--

You're awesome. That's exactly how I feel about the issue.

Posted by: OneElle | January 27, 2009 2:25 PM

MCPS CLOSED and rated one of the best in the country. DCPS OPEN.

don't see how whether or not the school is open today is relevant. they seem to be doing just fine.

Posted by: ballgame | January 27, 2009 2:32 PM

dear oo7 ... in your weak argument for closing school you wrote "their kids" instead of using the grammatically correct version of "they're kids." see, "their" implies possession, such as "their cat," or "their chair," while "they're" is a contraction from "they are," and should be used in sentences such as "they're cold," "they're ugly," "they're kids." ironically, your post is proof that children should be in class on all of the designated school days. hopefully, they'll (contracted from "they will") learn proper english grammar.

Posted by: mapatters | January 27, 2009 5:54 PM

also ... there is no comma in the sentance "Kids need time off too."

Posted by: mapatters | January 27, 2009 5:55 PM

"Better to close than to have a child killed when a school bus slides into a group of kids waiting for the bus."

Are there any documented instances of this EVER happening?

I think that rationale pretty much qualifies as hysteria.

Posted by: thefranchise379 | January 27, 2009 6:17 PM

Any time there is a weather event that creates a serious risk of harm to the students or staff of the schools, they should be closed. To even out the time for instruction, the schools should operate on a twelve-month schedule. For winter snow days summer vacation days can be substituted.

Posted by: Caponer | January 28, 2009 5:13 AM

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