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Our View: Carroll County Public Schools should always err on the side of safety

Carroll County Public Schools pushed back the start of the school day two hours Wednesday, but that wasn’t late enough. Tuesday’s snow hadn’t been completely removed and some roads, particularly in rural areas, were slick or snow-covered. An unexpected morning squall made it even more difficult for buses to complete their routes, prompting the school system to tell parents they might want to consider letting their kids stay home. And then, shortly before 9 a.m., a collision involving two CCPS buses injured three students.

Given a do-over, we’re sure CCPS officials would call off school. Decisions are made in real-time, however, without the benefit of hindsight. And those decisions are often difficult. But they should always err on the side of safety for the students.

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Of course, we understand the school system can’t win when it comes to inclement weather decisions. Officials drew criticism in December when they opted to close school for a snow day and again Tuesday when they declared that school would let out two hours early before a single snowflake had fallen (although both decisions wound up looking smart).

Opening late, closing early and canceling can be quite the inconvenience for parents of students who need child care. And if too many inclement weather days are used, the school year can go deep into June, another inconvenience.

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But every parent would much rather put up with those inconveniences than to receive news of a bus accident. Such an accident occurred just before 9 a.m. Wednesday, with the conditions almost certainly playing a factor.

Three students were injured, one taken to Carroll Hospital for treatment, when Bus 199 stopped to pick up a student and was rear-ended by Bus 399, according to CCPS spokesperson Carey Gaddis. The crash caused the front bus to move forward and hit a pedestrian student, who was not injured. The buses were carrying some 45 students, bound for South Carroll High School. Scary stuff for all involved, particularly the student suddenly hit by a bus weighing more than 10 tons.

Anthony Capezzuto, a junior at South Carroll who was on Bus 399 and suffered a head wound, told us he “definitely” felt that the snowy conditions contributed to the crash.

The collision wasn’t the only issue Wednesday. Because of the remaining snow and the unexpected squalls — a squall warning for parts of Carroll was issued by the National Weather Service at 7:35 a.m. — numerous buses were “severely” late, according to Gaddis. The school system sent out a message saying parents should show “discretion” as to whether to send their children to school.

Various online and social media reports had kids waiting at bus stops up to 30 minutes before giving up on late buses and returning home. Those reports are unconfirmed but plausible given that 37% of CCPS students were not in school Wednesday.

According to CCPS policy, the decision on whether to close or delay the opening of school must be made by 6 a.m., before buses are on the road and students have left their homes. When the school system declares a two-hour delay with reevaluation — which was not the case Wednesday — the deadline for re-evaluation is 7 a.m. That time seems arbitrary, however. If a decision needs to be made by 6 on a normal day, the deadline for reevaluation seems like it should be 8 when there is already a two-hour delay.

Had school officials been able to wait even 45 minutes longer than that 7 a.m. deadline to make such a decision, the National Weather Service warning might well have prompted a cancellation Wednesday. Then there would have been no bus crash, no severe delays keeping students waiting at bus stops during squalls and no school day with more than one-third of the student body absent.

The school system should learn from Wednesday’s events, push their deadlines and, again, when it’s a difficult decision, always err on the side of safety.

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