Parents, students protest MCPS call to open in record cold -- Gazette.Net


This story was updated at 3:15 p.m., Jan. 7, 2014.

Montgomery County Public Schools opened on time Tuesday as the region faced record cold temperatures, sparking concern and complaints from some parents, students and others.

Many took to social media, sending Twitter messages to Superintendent Joshua P. Starr and the school system about their disappointment that school openings were not delayed by the bitter temperatures.

The temperature in Gaithersburg dipped to 1 degree Tuesday morning, according to Weatherbug observations.

Some nearby school systems opted to delay or close their schools. Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools decided to close and Prince George’s County Public Schools opened two hours late. Public schools in Washington remained open.

Dana Tofig, spokesman for the Montgomery County school system, said that four schools closed Tuesday due to weather-related issues.

Jackson Road Elementary School in Silver Spring and Capt. James E. Daly Elementary School in Germantown both closed after they lost power, according to Tofig.

White Oak Middle School in Silver Spring closed following a burst pipe in the building and Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville closed following a loss of heat.

Most school buses started in the early morning weather, Tofig said. For those that didn’t start, replacement buses were used.

“We had a few schools that have some weather-related issues,” Tofig said Tuesday morning. “That happens in the winter when it’s cold.”

Some members of the school system community, however, expressed their unhappiness online, describing cold conditions waiting for the bus, walking to school and sometimes in school buildings.

One woman who identified herself as a county teacher wrote online Tuesday that “unfortunately I work in an area where students often come to school under dressed.”

Some students directed sarcastic and angry — and sometimes expletive-filled — messages to both Starr and the school system.

“Why is my bus not here yet / my tears are frozen / thanks @MCPS,” one student wrote.

At one bus stop in a Gaithersburg neighborhood, opinions about the school system’s decision were mixed.

Standing bundled up in his garage, John Davis said he was “a little disappointed” that schools were open.

Davis said his daughter had come home Monday night saying there could be a two-hour delay.

“I didn’t even really agree with that,” he said.

His 10-year-old daughter, Lauren, stood with him to wait for the bus to Fields Road Elementary School, having just returned from helping other children cross the street and get on their buses.

Lauren said she had to tell some kids to put on their jackets.

“It’s super cold outside; I wish there was no school,” she said.

Other parents at the bus stop, however, said they supported the choice to keep schools open.

“I think it’s fine, they should go — especially ‘cause I have a high schooler and they have exams next week,” said Bonnie Sneeringer of Gaithersburg.

Sneeringer — a former resident of Chicago familiar with cold weather — said she prepared her children by making sure they were bundled up.

“Cold is not a reason to get out of school,” she said.

Michael Doran, principal at Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville, said the building was doing mostly fine despite the temperatures.

Doran said one classroom was cold enough to move students to a warmer spot in the building.

“Those kids are meeting in the media center today,” he said.

Students have been out of school a lot recently, Doran said, and too many interruptions can potentially push back exam schedules and extend the school year.

Though some students were “annoyed,” attendance did not seem to be affected, he said.

“I’ve been walking around the classrooms and they seem pretty full,” Doran said. “They might complain, but they’re here.”

Tina Campbell — the parent of a kindergartner at Rachel Carson Elementary School in Gaithersburg — said in an email Tuesday that she thinks a two-hour delay would have been a reasonable call so kids could have walked to school or a bus stop in slightly warmer conditions.

Campbell of Kentlands said she and her husband decided it would be best for him to miss work in the morning to take their 5-year-old son — who has chronic bronchitis and nosebleeds — directly to school.

“with preston’s medical issues, i had concerns about him being out in the cold, even for a short period of time,” she wrote in the email.

Rachel Carson Elementary School Principal Lawrence Chep said that two rooms were without heat at the school Tuesday.

Campbell said she found it frustrating that the school system does not share more information about how it makes weather-related decisions and what input parents and teachers have in the process.

Students have been “out of control” on social media regarding the school system’s decision and should be more polite online, she said.

“But at the same time, I don’t think it is unreasonable for students and parents to feel like they need an outlet to communicate their frustration and perspective,” she said.