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Transit official calls separate 'snow' zone unworkable


When winter weather is bad, Paul E. Welch, Harford's transportation supervisor for schools, says he can't win.

If he decides to close the schools he gets "hate calls" from parents who say their roads are clear and schools should have been open.

If he decides not to close the schools he gets "hate calls" from parents who say their roads are dangerously covered with ice or snow and they should have been closed.

Last month, when school was delayed seven days and closed for nine, his phone was ringing off the hook.

To minimize future snow closings, the Harford County Council of PTAs asked Mr. Welch to create a northern zone in the county, similar to the Hereford zone in Baltimore County.

Schools in the northern zone could be shut down or delayed in bad weather without affecting the rest of the county.

Unfortunately, what works for Baltimore County won't work for Harford, Mr. Welch said.

The Hereford plan works because only 4 percent of the system's 98,000 students attend school in that zone, he said.

But more importantly, no students living above the line go to schools below the line that stretches across Baltimore County from Jarrettsville Pike at the Harford County border west to Piney Run Branch on the Carroll County border.

The Hereford zone has four elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.

In Harford County, creating any zone would affect nearly all of the 36,000 students, with the exception of Edgewood and Joppatowne students, because a student might live in the northern part of the county but attend school in the southern part, Mr. Welch said.

For example, students who live in Darlington, in northeastern Harford County near the Susquehanna River, attend middle and high school in Havre de Grace.

At a meeting Thursday of the Harford County Council of PTAs, Mr. Welch said it would be difficult to close some schools and not others, because Harford school districts are determined by individual schools and not by any geographical boundary.

Any attempt to create an artificial boundary would inevitably leave some students above or below the line, he told about 60 PTA members and school officials at the meeting at Southampton Middle in Bel Air.

But parents were unconvinced. "I think there is a way we could make this work," said Pat Benedict, president of the PTA at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary in Abingdon.

Mrs. Benedict, who lives in Belcamp, said many times the entire school system was shut down when roads only in the northern part of the county were dangerous.

Lee Blake, former PTA vice president of North Harford High, said she, too, is convinced that there are days schools in the northern part of the county should be closed or delayed while the rest of the county schools could open.

Mr. Welch said canceling or delaying school for only those students who live in the northern part of the county won't work because in many cases their schools are located in the southern part of the county and would be open. "We would have schools open with half the students missing," he said.

Also, Mr. Welch said bad weather is not restricted to the northern part of the county. He said the county is crisscrossed with roads that become dangerous because of ice or snow.

And he said a small amount of snow can foul roads in the southern part of the county; along U.S. Route 40, for example, simply because those roads are heavily traveled.

Roads in the northern end of the county could actually be less dangerous because there is less traffic.

"There are roads in the northern end of the county, including Robin Hood Road in Aberdeen, that are always dangerous when snows," he said.

Also, many students who live along U.S. Route 40 walk.

"It's not safe to allow students to walk up to 1 1/2 miles to school on ice-covered sidewalks," he said.

Mr. Welsh, who has worked in the transportation department for 14 years, said the possibility of creating a northern zone has been suggested six times in the past 18 years.

"This is nothing new. If there was any way to make it work we would have found it by now," he said.

A two-zone system would also play havoc at Harford Technical High and John Archer School, both in Bel Air, because the schools are attended by students all over the county, Mr. Welsh said.

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