After a winter like the one that seems like it ended only a few days ago, it's natural for conversations to turn to matters relating to when it's good policy to close schools because of snow, ice or some other inclement weather.
The starting point in making such decisions always should be that it is bad public policy to put children at heightened risk of injury, or worse, and it's better to err on the side of caution than to risk safety in the name of preventing the loss of a snow day.
Invariably, however, geography comes into play. Running from the southwest to the northeast in the county are roadways that have linked some of the largest cities along the East Coast since colonial times. They include, but aren't limited to, U.S. Routes 1 and 7 as well as I-95. They didn't end up where they are by accident. They ride a geological feature known as the fall line, which separates the often swampy coastal plain from the hilly Piedmont region. Especially in the days before paved roads, the fall line was an ideal place for a roadway because it split the difference between navigating bogs and having to traverse steeper terrain a few miles to the west.
The internal combustion engine and paved roads joined forces to minimize these concerns, but the old trade routes remain, and now serve as dividing lines of a slightly different kind. Often the fall line is the dividing line between places where snow sticks on the ground and where it doesn't.
At a few feet above sea level and on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay – which retains summer's warmth well into the autumn months – Havre de Grace often gets wet, even as up the hill and a few miles to the west in Level, at about 350 feet above sea level and only marginally removed from the warming influence of the upper Bay, snow sticks to fields and roads. Note: Havre de Grace is to the east of I-95; Level is to the west.
Over the years, and generally in years when the weather is especially unpleasant, there has been talk of dividing Harford County for purposes of declaring schools closed when the roads in Norrisville are coated with snow, but those in Joppatowne are merely wet. Such discussions are again underway in Harford County, and the school system is poised to make a ruling on the subject before the start of the coming school year.
The oft-cited model of such a bifurcation is Baltimore County, where just north of the Hunt Valley area, an east-west boundary separates the northern Hereford Zone from the balance of the county. Often the effects of winter storms are more harsh in the Hereford Zone, so sometimes classes go on as planned in much of the county, but start late or are closed altogether up north in Hereford.
Like the Hereford Zone, which is home to a single high school — Hereford High — and its six feeder schools, the area served by North Harford High School is geographically expansive and rather sparsely populated. Moreover, the weather in northern Harford is often very similar to that of the Hereford zone, even as the weather from Bel Air south is noticeably less harsh, at least during some storms.
More than a decade ago, seemingly on the spur of the moment, a new superintendent spending his first professional winter in a long time away from Michigan, thought it odd that school should be called off because roads in northern Harford were snow covered, while the rest of the county was simply wet. He called off classes in the part of the county served by North Harford High and confusion ensued. What about the elementary schools that fed into two different high school enrollment areas?
Presumably, if the school system makes the move to establish a separate weather zone in the north end, such details will be taken into account before a cancellation or delay is announced.
This, however, raises the key question in deciding whether to establish a special weather district in the north end: Is it worth the hassle?
Sure, there are days when the weather varies substantially from one end of the county to the other, but as a practical matter, there just aren't that many such days in a school year.
Then there's the matter of how many days students need to attend classes during an academic year. It shouldn't be different from one part of the county to another, just because it snowed in Pylesville, but rained in Joppatowne.
When it comes down to it, even in the past year when the weather was really bad, it is unlikely having a northern Harford weather district for the school system would have made much difference.
Setting up such a district seems like it has the potential to generate as many, or more, headaches as it cures.