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.
Joseph White says
It seems like a no-brainer to me. It has worked really well in the Hereford Zone of Baltimore County for many years. Sounds as if the Harford County BOE has their heads in the snow.
go for it says
Why don’t you run for the school board? Then you can fix everything that is wrong with the school system.
Someones mad. Incompetent board member maybe?
you’re right Matt. That response by “go for it” DID sound pretty childish, angry and insecure; and most of all , offended. If you’re correct in your guess, that is one immature, unprofessional, AND sneaky board member. I feel sorry for him or her.
Tired Granny says
And yet they wonder why so many people are leaving the County???
Really? It has worked so well in Balto. Co.? Can you site some examples?
Bye, Tired Granny.
Cue the insanity! Can’t wait to read these comments!
Concerned Citizen says
That would take too much thinking. I’m not surprised and kind of expected such a response.
Sam Adams says
Northern Harford County and the Hereford Zone should just get together and form their own school system. That way they can both start from scratch and not be burdened by the legacy of disfunction rampant in HCPS and BCPS. And yes I know this cannot be done due to government and political rules, but hey a little wishful thinking makes the day more pleasant.
Robin Mitchell says
I have lived in Pylesville for 23 years. I have never been SO shocked at the school systems total disregard of the North Harford area as I did on Monday February 2. Harford County SHOULD have delayed two hours to see how the storm played out. The change over happened very fast and conditions became very dangerous while North Harford High and Middle were arriving at school. A bus slide off the road and was stuck, luckily without children on board. Everyone seems to worry about getting the number of school days in before the end of June, but I am worried about the safety of my children. If they are not going to honor the conditions in the North Harford area than separate us from the rest of the county so our children our safe.
Tired Granny says
Can someone answer this question? Was the county government closed from the start on Monday? Also, did they open late on Tuesday as schools went in on time?
County government was not closed on Monday. Dont know how you came up with that. And on tuesday they opened at 10 but essential people had to go in and there are many essentials working for you citizens.
Sam Adams says
“You citizens” – I think that says it all right there.
Tired Granny says
That refers to the “you citizens” who pay the taxes that pay you, correct???
Tired Granny says
The County was placed on liberal leave on Monday. Apparently Politicians are far more important then our children
Duck Farmer says
The Government had liberal leave on Monday and opened at 10 am today.
A last minute attempt by out going County Councilman Chad Shrodes to salvage his do nothing term in office.
not happening says
Who is going to unseat him? Especially with Glassman endorsing Shrodes for reelection.
Justin A. Glimmer says
Umm…Mr. Grimmel (I hope!). 🙂 Chad has proven himself to be a “box of rocks”, AND a councilman that makes every decision based on politics (not common sense). It figures though, since he used to be a Democrat, and even served on the Harford County Democratic Central Committee not long before he switched parties to Republican, so that he would have a chance to win a seat on the Council in his very Republican district D (which, I must say has worked out very well for him, but not necessarily his constituents!) Way to go Chadster! 🙁
Duck Farmer says
I think Chad has been a great representative for our district. He listens to our concerns and does everything he can to support the community. I have seen him at more events in the community helping during his term than any other candidate in our district. I don’t know Mr. Grimmel but Chad has served our community well.
A former member of the Democratic Central Committee? That I didn’t know and certainly changes my perspective of Mr. Shrodes.
Wow, nothing should surprise you… McMahon, Boniface, Shrodes, Craig… they are all politicians first… I personally think they all lean towards the Democratic Party Principals (which is fine) however what I have a problem with is their pretense as Republicans… They all spend like drunken sailors…
You left out Slutzky.
Looney Tunes says
Has anyone asked Marc Eaton?
The problem is not the lack of a North Harford zone. The problem is the school system made a mistake on Monday. We were under a winter storm warning by the National Weather Service and remained so throughout the morning. The frozen precipitation was scheduled to begin during morning rush hour. And that’s exactly what happened for a good portion of the county, though the rain/snow/sleet line stalled over the center of the county. This was not a last minute surprise storm. Cecil County, Northern Baltimore County, and Carroll County all called a 2 hour delay to buy time to make a safe decision and then decided to close. While I understand the frustration of the North Harford parents, creating a new zone will not work unless you also include Fallston HS (parts of Jarrettsville), C. Milton Wright HS (parts of Street) and Havre de Grace HS (parts of Darlington). Throw in the magnet schools and you might as well close the whole system. What is truly needed is an apology from the school system. We’re sorry. We made a mistake. We will try to learn from the mistake and not repeat it in the future.
Stop suggesting rational and reasonable things, those have no place in Dagger comments.
ROBIN MITCHELL says
I totally agree with this statement and was trying to convey this in my post. The two hour delay would have solved the problem. The zone would be a BIG issue since North Harford High is a Magnet school. I am upset that they didn’t take North Harford’s weather in considering what to do. The area gets York County weather 75% of the time and Baltimore weather the other 25%. The two hour delay would have kept our children safe and not effected the school year if the weather held, but as we all know it did not hold, it changed in the North Harford area and I was sliding ALL over the road trying to get my children to school. They are in North Harford High and Middle, they both start at the same time. There is NO middle school pick up. We are the only school district that buses the middle and high together with the same start time and roads were bad. The buses had not even started to pick up elementary school children. This was not a small mistake, it was a BIG one that could have had children severely hurt in a bus accident. This time we were lucky, they need to take a hard look at the policy.
Harsh Truths says
What the school system should say is FVKC YOU North Harford. You live in a rural area with rural roads and rural conditions. Sometimes the winds blows and you smell cow sh*t and sometimes it doesn’t. Deal with it.
HCPS Suck says
This morning they waited too long! North MS and HS starts getting on the buses at 6am. We didnt receive emails, text or alert now calls to almost 6am. Thank God for WBAL. All the other school systems were announce before or at 5am. We have major slackers that just cant make a decision.
Fvck you says
Read my usename.
Next time you’ll complain that the phone call at 3am disturbed your precious snowflake’s sleep…
Goes to show says
Unbelievable, it goes to show that some people will never be happy.
God help you if you ever need to make a decision on your own.
Posted on website at 530
I did my own “feasibility” study. It was snowing like crazy through Rocks State Park, while it was raining in Joppa.
An aplogy by HCPS will never happen. And complaining about it all over the internet won’t do anyone any good. Lighten up, roll with the punches and if you don’t feel it’s safe even if they are open, then *don’t send your kids!*
Patricia Cantler says
I would have to agree with Mom……… If you think the roads are unsafe for your children to go to school then keep them home. Why don’t you as parents make a decision instead of someone making it for you. I have kept my kids home on several occasions because I have disagreed with HCPS. I as the parent make the ultimate ruling no one else.
Tired Granny says
@Patricia and Mom, I so agree with you which is why I kept mine off the bus. Our driveway was a sheet of ice and there was no way I was risking it. Apparently one of the little’s teachers has a problem with my choice since I heard a comment from the 6 year old that the teacher said she sould have been at school. Parents need to take the responsibility….all of those “Silly Southerners, who seem to think that we want to build our own nation at their expense are so clueless that it makes one ill. The county does need to consider that there are kids North and south of Bel Air and plan for their Safety as well. @ Becky, I so wish that you had Money Tree in the back seat LOL!!!
ROBIN MITCHELL says
This is a great thought except when your children are in middle and high. My daughter has applied for a magnet school program where they look at attendance as one of the issues, as well as, grades. While this is a one time deal, as of today, if poor decisions continue it puts my child at a disadvantage to the rest of the county that applies. I have lived in Harford County ALL of my life and in Pylesville for 23 years. I am just in disgust at how this was handled.
William Munny says
Wise words for parents to follow. Parental rights are being attacked and our county representative is creating a North Harford Zone? Do we want daycare combined with an indoctrination program or are we concerned about education?
We the public rely on the county’s resources to make the call. Why? Because we are at home sitting with our precious children or in some cases still asleep…waiting to hear what it’s like out there. In this North Harford zone we are extremely isolated. In a lot of cases no view of a major road in sight, secondary roads untouched, dirt and gravel roads, rocky ravines around every turn along Rocks State Park, twisty driveways that require a dependable husband to clear before the sun comes up and four wheel drive vehicles in the garage ready to tackle the day if we can. And we WILL if necessary but we have got to be open to revisiting policy every few years because TIMES…they are a-changing!
The Money Tree says
So 95 percent of the kids need to change thier schedule around you because you’re ass is still in bed?
Duck Farmer says
@Money Tree: YOU are the ass. Your heartfelt comments expressing lack of care for others only magnifies the fact that you are a douche. A 2 hour delay would have resolved a problem. They screwed up. Hopefully it won’t happen again. Get over your arrogant self.
@Duck Farmer, I still think that Money tree should come up here and take a ride through our beautiful part of the County in a School Bus on ice. I also think that he is a certain County Executive who doesn’t want anything taking the “glory from his final term. You are right thoughm no matter who it is they are an ASS!
I would love to see an attandance record for the County Government for Monday. Not the worker bees, just the BIGWIGS