The head of the PTA Council of Frederick County is asking the county school system to rethink its process for determining when to cancel or delay openings due to the weather.
The request follows concerns raised by parents over a decision to open schools on time on Friday, even though about 1 inch of snow had fallen on parts of the county, slowing traffic.
“Obviously, they know that Friday’s decision was not a popular one,” PTA Council President Julie Marker said. “Our overall concern is obviously for the safety of the students.
“I think we would like to see some sort of better plan,” Marker said. “I’m sure it will be revisited. It could be anything. It could be a tornado. We just want to make sure there’s a plan in place.”
Marker said she and about 25 parents met with Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Theresa Alban Monday night to discuss the matter. Alban explained the school system’s process for canceling or delaying school.
After receiving complaints via calls, Facebook postings and emails, the school system issued a formal apology, acknowledging that a delay would have been the proper choice.
Michael Doerrer, director of communications for county schools, said Friday’s decision was difficult because of a changing weather forecast.
“In the situation on Friday it was an extremely fast-moving event,” Doerrer said. “Predicting the weather is always a difficult activity. Honestly, any time you have a weather-related decisions like that, you’re going to have people unhappy with the decision and people happy with the decision.”
Doerrer said all the buses arrived safely on Friday, but he didn’t know how many were delayed.
He said the school system received a heavy volume of complaints, and would be evaluating the procedures for deciding on delays.
Doerrer said the school system’s process for deciding whether to delay or cancel school includes monitoring weather reports, discussions with state and county officials, as well as several transportation staff members traveling the county’s roads around 4 a.m. to decide if travel is safe.
He said discussions between the transportation staff and facilities personnel help aid the decision, but the decision ultimately rests with Alban.
“The superintendent makes her decisions based on students’ safety,” he said. “She doesn’t make her decision based on the feedback she thinks she’s going to get.”
Frederick Board of Education member Brad Young said Friday’s decision was difficult because of the timing of the snowfall.
Schools opened two hours late on Jan. 24 and Jan. 28 because of snow and ice, and students were dismissed two hours early on Jan. 25 due to snow.
The school system also sent students at Green Valley Elementary School and Windsor Knolls Middle School home early on Jan. 16 due to high winds.
The 2012-2013 calendar includes five days for snow or other emergency closings, which can be removed if not used as long as students are in session for 180 days, according to the school system’s calendar site.
“Once you start the buses rolling, it’s tough to stop them,” Young said. “The other day when they closed the schools early, but it didn’t snow [people were frustrated]. If you try and choose and guess when it will snow, you’re kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t. I’m glad I’m not making the decision.”
Young said Frederick County has particular challenges because of its geographical diversity, but it’s aided somewhat by the ability to delay specific feeder patterns if conditions are more dangerous in one area like Thurmont.
“I’m not going to second-guess the decision they made,” Young said. “...If the public wants us to guess every time the weather says snow, they’re not going to be happy if we end up going to the middle of June because we called it when there was no snow.”