A spokesperson said Tuesday that Harford County Public Schools is not considering a separate North Harford zone for weather-related closings and delays, despite an outcry from affected parents and their county council representative. Responding to questions from The Dagger, HCPS spokesperson Lindsay Bilodeau cited a feasibility study conducted years ago at the request of the school board:
“Several years ago, the Board of Education asked us to do a study to determine if this was feasible for Harford County. The conclusion of the study, which included weather patterns; precipitation amounts in various regions of the county; the feeder patterns of elementary, middle, and high schools; and other demographic data, was not conclusive in establishing a separate zone for the northern part of our county. Therefore, a separate zone was not created then, and it is not currently a consideration for us.”
The Dagger has requested a copy of the study, but a copy found on the Harford County Public Schools web site is posted at the end of this story.
Calls for a North Harford zone similar to the Hereford zone in Baltimore County were sparked Monday when schools opened despite wintry conditions that had a disproportionate effect in North Harford. The school system later dismissed students early because of deteriorating weather conditions.
County Councilman Chad Shrodes, representing North Harford, said that his district typically gets more snow and is several degrees colder than the rest of the county. He called the conditions in the area Monday “unsafe.”
Shrodes said his district got 8 – 9 inches of snow, while another section of the county got mostly rain. Shrodes said he urged the creation of a Facebook page calling for HCPS to create a North Harford zone. Shrodes said he and county council President Billy Boniface would be sending a letter to Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan and the Board of Education. He also met with Board of Education President Nancy Reynolds on Tuesday and said, “she is aware of the issues.”
Parents on the Facebook page posted photos of snow covered roads and reported school buses delayed, stuck, or struggling up hills. Some parents said they kept children home Monday for fear of road conditions.
Tuesday brought more questions from parents when the school system opened on time, but county government announced a delayed opening for employees. How does each entity make decisions about weather-related closings and delays?
For Harford County government, the process begins with a 4:00 a.m. phone call between the Department of Public Works, and Director of Administration Mary Chance, said Sherrie Johnson, spokesperson for County Executive David Craig. Chance then confers with Craig, who makes the final decision, Johnson said. “The main goal is to keep people safe,” she said, noting that some employees travel from Pennsylvania or Baltimore County.
Asked why school buses might be on roads deemed unsafe for county employees, Johnson said she couldn’t speak to the school system’s process. County government relied on information from DPW crews, she said, and the school system had its own transportation department.
Harford County Public Schools has a published inclement weather policy explaining their process, which appears in full below. The policy reads, in part:
“All public schools in Harford County will be closed on days when roads, school parking lots, and/or school driveways/walkways are considered to be unsafe for school bus transportation. The decision to close is made by the Superintendent of Schools as early as possible on the morning in question. In the vast majority of cases, this is prior to 6:00 a.m. This determination is made after consulting with the state police, the state and county highway departments, and other sources of information in different parts of the county.”
The Dagger asked this follow-up question Tuesday:
“Harford County had a delay today for county employees, and readers are asking how that can be when HCPS opened on time. I see the policy posted on your web site which explains how HCPS makes decisions. If there is anything you want to add, I wanted to offer you the opportunity to do so.”
HCPS spokesperson Lindsay Bilodeau responded as follows:
“Harford County Public Schools has a set process for monitoring weather conditions, physically assessing road conditions, and communicating with local and state agencies (Harford County Department of Public Works, Harford County Sheriff’s Office, State Highway Administration, etc.) and neighboring counties to make decisions regarding the school system operating schedule during inclement weather events. Weather, temperature and projected weather event timelines and paths are also closely monitored using “Accuweather” and other weather sources of information. In addition, transportation supervisors actually go out in their vehicles by 4:00 a.m. to drive the roadways in ALL areas of the county.
The decision to delay or close is made based on the conditions observed and the best available information at that time, knowing the timing that our buses will get out on the roads. What needs to be taken into consideration is the time that Harford County’s earliest buses pre-trip and the tiered schedule that school bell times begin. Harford County’s window of opportunity to delay opening ends at 4:45 a.m., at the latest.
During an active event, the conditions are monitored continuously throughout the day. It should be noted that from November to April, these steps are taken every morning, Monday through Friday, regardless of whether schools are in session or not. Decisions about whether to close schools are not taken lightly. All decisions take into account the safety of all HCPS students and staff.”
Both HCPS and county government will get a chance to exercise their respective processes again soon, with another round of winter weather reportedly on the way.
Below is the full text of the HCPS Inclement Weather Policy:
Inclement Weather Policy
All public schools in Harford County will be closed on days when roads, school parking lots, and/or school driveways/walkways are considered to be unsafe for school bus transportation. The decision to close is made by the Superintendent of Schools as early as possible on the morning in question. In the vast majority of cases, this is prior to 6:00 a.m. This determination is made after consulting with the state police, the state and county highway departments, and other sources of information in different parts of the county.
Some weather conditions make it advisable to delay the opening time of schools. In such situations, the delayed prekindergarten plan will be in effect for half day programs.
• If schools are delayed one hour, morning half-day pre-kindergarten will start at 10:00 a.m.; afternoon half-day pre-kindergarten will proceed as originally scheduled. Full-day pre-kindergarten programs will follow the school system schedule.
• If schools are delayed two hours there will be no morning half-day pre-kindergarten or early intervention programs; afternoon half-day pre-kindergarten will proceed as originally scheduled. Full-day pre-kindergarten programs will follow the school system schedule.
Any change from the normal school schedule as a result of inclement weather – snow, ice, heat, etc. – will be communicated via the Alert Now rapid telephone notification system and on radio and television stations broadcast to the public In addition, closings will be listed at the top of the home page of the HCPS web site at http://www.hcps.org.
Parents have the right not to send their children to school if they feel travel conditions are unsafe. Children will be marked as absent for the time they are not in school.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF HARFORD COUNTY
Study of Proposed North Harford Zone
From Harford County government:
Snow and Freezing Rain Predicted for Region; Early morning commute could be impacted
Harford County public safety officials are preparing for yet another severe winter storm event. The National Weather Service (NWS) has issued a Winter Storm Warning for snow, sleet and freezing rain for the area. The storm is expected to impact Harford County between 10:00 p.m. Tuesday evening through mid-morning Wednesday.
Harford County Emergency Manager Rick Ayers of the Harford County Department of Emergency Services (DES) is advising citizens to prepare for slippery, ice covered roads as temperatures drop below freezing through the night. According to the NWS, Harford County could receive two inches of snow, followed by freezing rain and as much as one-quarter inch of ice.
“The last weather reports we have received indicate a serious weather event, to include freezing rain and ice will hit Harford County late tonight and into Wednesday morning”, Ayers said. “Wednesday morning’s commute may be hazardous as snow and rain turn to ice, thus making driving conditions difficult at best”, Ayers added.
The Harford County Department of Emergency Services reminds motorists to allow extra time for their commute, as well as to reduce speed and maintain a safe distance from vehicles in front of them. Additionally, as with any severe winter storm, motorists should ensure their vehicles have a full tank of fuel, and include a flashlight with extra batteries, blankets to keep occupants warm, windshield scraper and brush, first aid kit and a cell phone with charger and extra battery if possible.
The Harford County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will activate at 7:00 p.m. Tuesday evening with Level 1 (Emergency Management team) staffing only. The EOC will activate with increased staffing to Level 2 Wednesday morning at 6:00 a.m. and will remain staffed throughout the storm event.
Personnel assigned to the Harford County Department of Public Works, Division of Highways will report for work at 9:00 p.m. Tuesday evening and will work through the night on snow removal and road treatment as necessary.
“Although we are not concerned with winds at this time, snow and ice could result in power outages,” Ayers said. “Accumulations of ice can bring down tree branches on power lines thereby disrupting electrical service. Any storm consisting of a mix of snow, freezing rain and ice can be a serious public safety issue,” remarked Ayers.
For further information on storm and emergency preparedness, visit the Harford County Department of Emergency Services website at www.harfordpublicsafety.org or call 410-638-4900.
From the Maryland State Highway Administration:
STATE HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION PREPARES FOR ICE STORM
Yet Another Precipitation Forecast Signals Hazardous Road Conditions
Predictions of freezing rain and ice translate to hazardous road conditions across the state and the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) is making preparations now to keep roads as safe as possible. Even with four wheel drive vehicles, driving on ice can create more challenges than driving in snow and motorists should plan ahead for venturing out this evening and during tomorrow morning’s commute.
These tips for driving in icy conditions can help make your travel safer:
– Ramps, bridges and overpasses are three to five degrees colder than non-elevated surfaces and will freeze first, so drivers should remain on guard at all times. Use caution when merging at ramps and intersections.
– Use low gears to maintain control, especially on hills.
– Avoid sudden braking or aggressive steering.
– Don’t use cruise control – monitor your driving speeds, especially with the changing weather conditions.
– If your vehicle does become disabled, make every effort to move safely from the travel lane and onto the shoulder.
Plan your route in advance by using the “511 Traveler Information” system. Know Before You Go! Dial 511 from a land line or mobile phone for traffic, weather alerts and road conditions. For internet access, visit www.MD511.org.