Harford County Public Schools parents flooded online comment forums last week with their anger over what appeared to be a last-minute decision Feb. 3 by school officials to open schools on time and then send children home two and a half hours later in the middle of a snowstorm.
Despite the earlier outrage and the likelihood of another major snowstorm forecast to hit the county sometime Wednesday, only a handful of parents appeared at Monday's Board of Education meeting to comment about weather closing decisions.
Some speakers asked to be included in any changes the school system might make to inclement weather procedures, while others continued to rail about bus service cuts that played into the prior week's fiasco.
One parent thanked bus drivers for getting children home safely in snowy and icy conditions.
"Thank you for caring and protecting our children on the buses, daily, but especially on Monday [Feb. 3]," Diane Doran, a parent of a North Harford High and North Harford Middle student, said during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Although the school board did not discuss creating a separate zone for northern Harford County, which experienced lower temperatures and greater amounts of snow than the rest of the county last week, interim Superintendent Barbara Canavan instructed her top aides to revisit the zone issue, which prior school administrations have rejected.
Despite a threat of snow, students were sent to school on time on the morning of Feb. 3, only to be sent home 2 1/2 hours later, meaning most left their schools during the heaviest part of the storm. Following an overnight ice storm on Feb. 4, schools were closed for the day on Feb. 5 and 6.
Many parents have questioned what some saw as a lack of a clear-cut decision making process on weather delays and closings, but the superintendent's top aides tried to dispel such notions during Monday's board meeting, as they explained in detail the process that led to the most recent decisions that brought criticism.
Magnet buses Snafu
Joe Licata, chief of administration, and Charlie Taibi, director of transportation, acknowledged that mistakes were made on Feb. 3, especially with regard magnet program students who were stuck riding on buses for two to three hours.
Taibi noted eight buses have been removed from magnet school routes as school officials consolidated bus routes and instituted depot stops for magnet students to save money at the beginning of the school year, which meant there were fewer buses to take students home and confusion among students as to what bus they were supposed to be on.
"This was the first time that we implemented this practice and we realize that it does need to be refined and we're working on that now," he said.
He and Licata said they had spoken with a number of frustrated parents. Taibi confirmed in an interview after the board meeting that he had sent an e-mail to a parent, outlining road conditions as he saw them on Feb. 3.
The e-mail was later posted on a Facebook group for parents in the northern part of the county, many of whom in turn criticized it and claimed what they experienced was much worse.
Dominic Trulli of Abingdon, who is a junior in the Science and Mathematics Academy magnet program at Aberdeen High School, said he had expressed concerns earlier in the year about the cutbacks and the depot stops and how they would work in inclement weather.
Dominic said his father was able to pick him up from his depot stop at his neighborhood high school, but he also said he received text messages from friends who were riding on buses for two to three hours.
Mary Archer, who has two children in magnet programs, said her daughter was dropped off near Havre de Grace High School and had to seek shelter with friends at a nearby business.
"Just rescind the busing transportation [changes] for this year," she said. "Return it to where it was before; we didn't have any problems last year."
Board member Joseph Hau proposed restoring the magnet transportation services during budget deliberations Jan. 27, but withdrew his amendment after fellow board members suggested keeping the system as it is until officials can obtain software to determine where more efficiencies can be gained.
At that earlier meeting, Taibi had noted the difficulty in changing back bus routes that were "intermeshed" and the cost of purchasing eight new buses to replaced the ones that were dropped.