Harford Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan on Monday requested a feasibility study on a separate “North Harford Zone” for weather-related delays and closings. Canavan called for the study at a school board meeting yesterday where staff outlined current inclement weather procedures and acknowledged errors last Monday when schools opened on time but dismissed early under heavy snow in North Harford.
Canavan directed HCPS Chief of Administration Joe Licata and Transportation Director Charlie Taibi to form a task force to conduct the study, including a review of two previous studies on the subject. “I think we owe that to the community and the kids,” she said.
The most recent school system study on a North Harford Zone conducted in 2008 did not recommend the separate zone, citing logistical barriers among other factors. Canavan’s decision to revisit the issue was a reversal from last Tuesday, when a school spokesperson said that the separate zone was “not currently a consideration for us.”
Canavan added in an interview following yesterday’s school board meeting that the new study would necessarily involve inclement weather procedures countywide. Community members would also have a seat at the table, Canavan said.
Parents over the past week have flocked to a Facebook page petitioning the school system to form a separate North Harford zone. The page quickly swelled to over 2,400 members.
Speaking at the school board meeting Monday, parent Carol Frontera said on behalf of the group that parents wanted solutions. “Our goal is to make sure there is no child on a bus or walking to school when their safety is at risk”. She thanked Canavan for establishing the new task force and asked for parents and bus drivers to be included.
Inclement Weather Procedures
Earlier in the school board meeting, Licata reviewed current procedures for inclement weather, explaining that HCPS subscribes to national and local forecasts and works in concert with other government entities. On the day of a predicted event, Licata said, Transportation Director Taibi rises at 3:00 a.m. to drive the roads and gather information from Harford County Sheriff’s deputies on patrol, from the county emergency operations center, and state and county highway authorities. Depending on conditions, Taibi will then direct supervisors covering each section of the county to drive in their areas and report on conditions. Next, Taibi and Licata confer to decide whether to call for a delay or closure. Lastly, Licata said, they consult with the superintendent who makes the final decision.
When snow is on the ground, Licata said, the decision is “almost automatic” to have a two-hour delay or closure. Where decisions get “testy”, he said, is when at 3:30 – 4:30 in the morning, what is predicted to be snow turns out to be nothing, or, as happened last Monday, only rain. “Do we kill the day, so to speak, based on that prediction when at that period of time it may be doing nothing,” Licata said, “or do we make the decision to go, with the idea that we can close early as we’ve done many times in the past, and get some instruction in for the day?”
With some buses gearing up as early as 4:15 a.m. Taibi said, the window for decision-making closes around 4:45 a.m., otherwise the buses will be off schedule. Special education students are among those served by the earliest bus runs, Taibi said.
Licata later clarified via email:” We try to make the decisions by 4:45 to 5:00 for the system. If we need to, we hold those [early] few buses until we make a final decision.”
Notification of a delay or school closure begins at 5:00 a.m. for media and senior staff, with messages to all other employees and parents between 5:15 – 5:30, Licata said. The notification includes email, updates to the school system’s Web site, and Facebook page, plus more than 61,000 robocalls that Licata said could take 15 minutes to complete. He urged parents who were not getting messages to email the communications office with their preferred contact method and the necessary contact information.
The Week that Was
Licata said that snow was predicted in the north last Monday but in the early decision-making hours there was only rain. If the snow predictions came true by afternoon, he said, school officials figured there would be time for a partial school day and early closure, if necessary. Instead, heavy morning snow hit North Harford after buses had already gone out.
“There were some errors… there’s no doubt”, he said, but the decision then became whether to leave students in school until the storm passed or get them home as early as possible. Licata said they chose the latter because by that time the prediction had changed to a longer event with more snow accumulation.
North Harford parents on the Facebook page reported buses that day were delayed, stuck, and/or struggling on snow covered hills.
In addition to the problems in North Harford, parents countywide reported that some students in magnet programs had 2 – 3 hour bus rides home, and some were dropped off in the wrong locations.
Normally, magnet program students get transportation to and from their home school, but must get their own rides between there and home. For early dismissal days, parents were given a form earlier in the school year allowing them to pre-select a bus stop closer to their homes.
Taibi said the long bus rides last Monday were partly the result of cuts to the number of buses this year, which weren’t factored into the plan for early dismissal days. He said some existing buses have been assigned to reduce travel times in the future.
“We also had some faux pas”, he said, citing one bus driver who didn’t follow the proper procedure for drop off and some students unsure of what they were supposed to do. Calling the episodes a “learning experience” for early dismissal in the magnet programs, Taibi added, “We realize it does need to be refined and we’re working on that now”. Despite the problems, he said that all students eventually arrived home safely.
When schools were closed again on Thursday of last week, Licata said, some parents complained about the inconvenience, but there were more than a dozen road closures and widespread power outages that day, including 5-7 schools. “We’re going to err on the side of caution,” Licata said, adding that the safety of students and employees took precedence over convenience.
Regarding cancelled field trips, Licata said, those decisions are also based on weather predictions, and in some cases, the weather in other counties where buses may be headed. “Once they’re out they’re much more difficult to get back, he said.
Following the presentation, Board President Nancy Reynolds thanked Licata and Taibi for acknowledging the problems and working toward solutions.
Noting that some staff worked overnight hours to clear parking lots or drive “treacherous” roads to report on conditions, Interim Superintendent Canavan thanked all bus drivers, facilities personnel and transportation department employees: “Those people need to be acknowledged for all their hard work,” she said.
Joseph White says
It seems like a no-brainer. It has worked well for years in the Hereford Zone in Baltimore County.
Average elevation in the Herford zone is significantly higher!
The Money Tree says
Not to mention that Baltimore has points both as far north as Harford and well to the south of Harford so the need to treat those differing areas is far greater, however they want to create a new zone more power to them. My beef is the morons that move up there, don’t farm, want everything the country life offers but whine and cry about lack of services. It’s like moving to the ocean and being irritated by the waves. Stupidest thing ever…
Light Bulb Pizza says
Same crowd that moves near farms and complains about dookie being spread on the fields, or farm equipment driving on the roads.
The Money Tree says
Or the sound of gunfire.
Light Bulb Pizza says
My personal favorite, the amount of calls to report people wearing camo in the woods, fields. It’s hunting season.
Those would be the dundalk/ Essex transplants.
In another couple weeks there wont be any snow and no snow means no problem.
That’s a pretty cavalier attitude calling what happened to the magnet students a faux pas. Hcps says they care about academc excellence but consistently ignore the problems magnet students have had with transportation all year.
My only question is what about the teachers that live in this Zone, if the rest of the county is not closed, are we still expected to leave in unsafe conditions and go to work to possibly come home to worse conditions? I currently live in the NH area and am currenlty a long-term substitute at a school 40 minutes away atthe other end of the county. I slid for 4 miles to my house and then almost couldn’t get up my road on last week when we went to school to turn around and have schools close. If the whole county is closed we then know students and teachers are hopefully safe. I am all for keeping students safe, but when my life is at risk, is it worth it to go to work? Would I be forced to go a day without pay because I can’t make it to school?
You chose to live there, choices have consequences.
While I understand your sentiment, you are an adult, capable of making sound decisions regarding yourself. Children are not – which is why they have the adults making decisions for them.
Unfortunately, you are like the rest of the working world in that you need to decide for yourself if you are willing to drive in bad weather. There were many other employees, from many other companies, who had to slide home last week, too.
Light Bulb Pizza says
Wahhhh. How many thousands of other people have to drive 40 minutes or further in snow to their jobs?
Biggest complaining profession ever.
The Money Tree says
You win the stupid comment of the day award.
Mr. Plow says
It’s easy to say too bad, I don’t care, you chose to live there, you whine too much, and of course it’s fun to think of other snarky comebacks. Unfortunately her concern is what will happen when her employer CHANGES THE RULES on her. I suspect many of you would be a little concerned if your employer suddenly showed signs of altering the rules dictating your workplace attendance guidelines – particularly if it involved being paid or not. Seems like a legitimate question to me.
Mr. Plow says
None of that changes the fact that I’d leave the county as one zone. Let the kids in the south enjoy a day off when the north is snowed in… the worst areas and safety should dictate. One event like the one last week is no excuse for all this turmoil.
Say it Ain't So says
Study, study, study! Kids in Darlington go to Havre de Grace Middle and High. Kids in Jarretsville go to Fallston Middle and High. Unless there are boundary changes, which parents will go bonkers over, the Northern zone won’t work. In addition, there are numerous staff who live in PA and work throughout the county. Would they be expected to go to work? What about kids who have to walk to school in Bel Air, Joppatowne, Aberdeen, and Havre de Grace? No one ever worries if the sidewalks are clear for these students. In heavy snows, many of these students have to walk in the street. Getting to school in a safe manner is an issue throughout the county.
Deal With It says
As an adult, you can make decisions. As an educator, you should be able to make wise decisions. I lived most of my life in a Midwest state that got real snow, not these light dustings. (3-5 inches that melts by afternoon is not real snow). I often would allow several hours extra to make my drive to work. That’s what a responsible adult does. One does not whine, one just does what must be done, and if that means a bit less sleep, deal with it.
The abject fear of people here in MD of the weather is embarrassing. Kids notice this stuff and emulate the behavior. Grow up and deal with it. I also blame the weather forecasters who build it up to be a storm of gargantuan proportions. They are calling this one a winter hurricane. How stupid. 30 mph winds is not nearly a hurricane.
The school system will review this issue once again and come to the same conclusion – no North Harford Zone.
and spend more money after two earlier studies said it wouldn’t work, oh well, HC taxpayers won’t mind spending more money for nothing
I doubt any money will be spent but a lot of staff time will be used, which many will think is a waste of already limited resources.
Light Bulb Pizza says
Exactly, people in this state are an embarrassment to a lot of things, to include winter weather. It snows just about every winter, and its like the first time, everytime.
People here want to leave work during a snow storm as the same time they leave on a nice summer day. Wearing shorts, t shirt and a light jacket in 9 degree Fahrenheit weather is not smart, either.
People also seem to want to drive the same speeds as they do when its not snowing while smart phone is still glued to their head.
"Moron" that moved to North Harford says
Well…comments here show that there are pinheads on both sides of the issue. The truth of the matter is that farmers up here in the North Harford zone know the differences. They plant about two weeks later than lower Harford County farmers because the temps up here align more with York, PA than with Bel Air. When my neighbors kids had to evacuate their bus last week and stand in the snow while it was being extracted from a ditch, that tells me that the roads are a little different up here. When my son who takes the bus from a magnet was on his bus for almost 3 hours to get home (and he wasn’t the last one off) that tells me that the roads are different up here. Check the USDA hardiness zone map for yourselves. Our temps, just like much of northern Baltimore County, are about 5-10 degrees lower on average than the rest of the county. Yes, our population density is small up here, but that doesn’t mean our childrens’ safety isn’t just as important as children in the rest of the county. The Superintendent made a mistake last week and thank goodness no children were injured. Mistakes happen. Hopefully HCPS will move forward with a better plan now. Not next year, now.
Gotta go to work. says
I am a teacher (and don’t panic…I’m on my lunch break) and I understand that the reason they close schools is for the safety of the STUDENTS. My getting to work is not the concern of my employer. My getting to work is my job. So leave early, do whatever you have to do if you are a teacher living in the NH area, teach elsewhere in the county, and they go to a NH zone.
That said…I doubt it will happen. From what my colleagues in Balt. Co. have said, they have regretted creating this zone since day one. Problem is, once something is done, it’s really, really hard to undo without a LOT of fallout. It’s politically safer to keep the status quo than it is to make a change, then retract it even if it is not working so well.
John F. Dittimuth says
The Hereford zone has how many schools compared to a “North Harford” zone? Magnet programs?
Besides employees driving all around the county, how will the “union” respond to some teachers having a free day off versus others working? That is unfair. Thumb me up union peoples.
It has to be unfair a Bel Air southy resident teacher has the day off at a North Harford school but a North Harford resident teacher has to drive through the snow to a I95 school.
The Money Tree says
Then there’s the question of what we call the new zone. Hereford sounds like and certainly suggests a breed of cow…appropo, n’est-ce pas? So in the spirit of finding the right title please pick from the list.
1) I’m new up here and the way we did it in NJ was….(fill in the blank) zone.
2) Nobody told me that cows actually pooped on the ground zone.
3) Sometimes when the road is windy and it’s icey no matter how much you turn the wheel the car skids but slowing down is not an option zone.
4) I work for the federal government and we don’t have to work much zone.
5) I grow a patch of tomatoes so can I quality for an ag tax break zone?
6) Yes the roads are bad but I have an enormous SUV so if I crash while dialing my stylist it only kills you zone.
Kim Vergari says
I would much rather drive in 6 inches of snow in NHarford than an inch of snow in Bel Air with all the traffic!
Come On People... says
Really? Come on people, the last storm with the significantly higher amounts in northern Harford County is NOT what the ratio normally is. Their 9″ to Joppa’s 1-2″ for the last snow is not what normally happens. A NH zone is ridiculous! Stop whining duck farmers!
“Come on people” you’ve made the most sense so far. Some people are acting like they live in Siberia. So what happens when a freak storm( which could happen)that would bring snow and ice to the southern part of the county? Just leave things the way they are.
So would people that live in these areas and go to magnet schools miss out on the oppurtunity to learn? They would need to close ALL magent schools which is 60% of the schools in the county. The zone would not work. Simple as that.
Fah King says
People foamed out the mouth about the magnet programs, now that they got it they will never be able to successfully “zone” portions of the county school districts. Hahaha.
Fah King says
Ooh, thumb me down all you want. Don’t forget to “like” vacation pictures on facebook after you post a 4 paragraph rant about Harford County inclement weather operation decisions. Ahhh HYUCK HYUCK HYUCK
Wow, I was going to comment on this issue but most of you are so mean. You know that you can disagree with someone without being rude, right?