Anne Arundel County police are deploying a helicopter to assist in increased police presence on major streets during school arrival and dismissal times today. In Baltimore County, school officials are calling for students to wear bright clothing for greater visibility. And Howard County school officials are warning high-schoolers not to drive to school and instead opt for a ride from parents.
"Our students are heading back in extraordinary circumstances," said Charles Herndon, a spokesman for Baltimore County schools. "We are appealing to parents to be on the lookout for any problems and to be patient."
Baltimore-area school officials are emphasizing student safety as schools across the region reopen today after the recent snowstorms that blanketed the area with more than 3 feet of snow, keeping some students out of school for more than a week and a half.
While students have seemingly enjoyed the unexpected break from classes, the cleanup has been an arduous task for a region unaccustomed to such an onslaught of snow within the same week. With many sidewalks still covered with ice and huge piles of snow encroaching on lanes of traffic in some areas, school systems across the region are beginning their school days two hours late for the rest of the week to avoid rush-hour traffic and students having to trek to school in the early-morning darkness.
"It's going to take a team effort to get through this," said Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell. "The conditions are not going to be ideal. If we waited for the snow to melt, all the ice, it would be weeks before we get students back in school."
Keith Scroggins, the chief operating officer for Baltimore schools, said the system practiced school bus routes Tuesday and reported to the city's storm center the "major problems," which included icy sidewalks and inaccessibility. Scroggins said approximately 4,000 students use the city's 275 contracted school buses and another 25,000 students use Maryland Transportation Authority buses to get to school. Similarly, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties have conducted school bus test runs.
"Safety has to be the primary consideration in anything that we do," said Scroggins, adding that he expected city officials to clear and salt the trouble areas. "We're taking every step to reduce any possible chaos."
At all of the city schools, there are pathways to front entrances and parking lots that are free of snow and ice, Scroggins added, though there are some schools where not all sidewalks have been cleared. Additionally, teachers at 22 of the city's schools use street parking in the neighborhoods because those schools do not have parking areas. The city school system also reported those areas to the storm center, so teachers would not have trouble parking there today. Officials in Baltimore County, too, have been assessing the school system's 800 bus routes. Herndon said "our schools are in good shape."
In Howard County, school officials urged "less experienced" student drivers to avoid the roads as a safety precaution, adding that some parking spaces also may not be accessible because of snow piles. Police will be stationed at the county's 12 high schools to direct traffic.
"We want the opening to go as smooth as possible," said Anna Gable, a spokeswoman for Howard County schools.
Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold said the security measures, including helicopters to help with traffic, and extra staff that will greet students returning to class today will "look much like the first day of school, with more emergency personnel and flashing lights to protect our students walking to schools and bus stops."
Besides safety, there was concern about students getting back into the swing of things after such a pronounced and impromptu vacation. Schools will likely be forced to stay open at least a couple of days later at the end of the school year to make up the snow days, but some students are scheduled to take state assessments in a few weeks.
Mosier, of Anne Arundel schools, said each teacher will proceed with what works best for the class.
"There's no question that it's going to be difficult for teachers, a big challenge for teachers," he said. "There's no time to waste."
Ann DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association, said teachers were already gearing up.
"They were going to go catch up in their classrooms" Tuesday, DeLacy said. "Testing is coming up and they are so far behind."
Baltimore Sun reporters Mary Gail Hare and John- John Williams IV contributed to this article.