Maryland schools mull closing decisions amid extreme cold

Without snowfall or ice on the roads, decisions by several Maryland school systems to cancel schools during a recent cold snap perplexed many.

The polar vortex brought frigid arctic air into most of the country, and many schools in Baltimore and the region canceled or delayed classes — a measure aimed at keeping students warm and avoiding facility problems.

Harford County Public Schools were among those closed Tuesday, when temperatures were in the single digits. The school system also had two-hour delays on Monday and Wednesday.

Teri Kranefeld, a spokeswoman for Harford County schools, said the scheduling decisions reflected concern about the safety of students exposed to the chilly weather and questions about how school buildings would handle record-setting lows.

"We had to consider how our facilities will react to the extreme temperatures," Kranefeld said.

She said that a few schools had sustained building damage such frozen pipes, which have since been repaired. "The majority of our parents were pleased we were erring on the side of caution," she said.

Facing similar concerns, Baltimore City and Baltimore County schools opened two hours late on Tuesday.

Edie House Foster, a spokeswoman for Baltimore City schools, said in an email that a delay was sufficient because it allowed for temperatures to rise before students headed out, gave buses time to get back on schedule and enabled staffer members to resolve cold issues at the schools.

Two Baltimore schools had to close Tuesday due to weather-related issues.

Though the district decided to open two hours late, many complained about conditions over social media, and many students stayed home. City school officials reported a 60 percent attendance rate for the district on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the number bounced back to 84 percent.

Montgomery County Public Schools chose a different tack, operating on a normal schedule.

"We felt that we could open the schools safely," said Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the school system. "The schools were heated, the buses were heated. There was no ice, no snow."

Maintenance crews prepared the schools, and bus drivers began their shifts early. Buses that had trouble starting were replaced, causing some delays in picking up students.

Tofig said there was concern about students walking to school and waiting in the cold at bus stops, but officials felt the decision to open was the right move.

Anne Arundel County schools also opened on time Tuesday, drawing complaints from parents. They made the same decision after freezing rain hit the region Friday — though they said they regretted it and decided students would not be penalized for being late or absent.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad