Montgomery County Superintendent Joshua P. Starr awoke to find that Hurricane Irene had knocked out power at a third of the district’s schools the day before classes were supposed to start. The storm handed the new superintendent one of the most closely watched decisions a schools chief can make: whether to cancel classes.
With an extra day of summer vacation at stake, Starr spent Sunday fielding status updates from the school system’s chief operating officer, as well as repeated questions from his own household: “My kids kept asking me, ‘Are we going to have school tomorrow, Daddy?’ ”
By about 8 p.m. Sunday, power had been restored to all but 22 schools. Starr gave the go-ahead to get the buses ready.
All but seven schools in Montgomery ultimately opened Monday morning, along with schools in Loudoun County and Frederick County, Md. But Mother Nature has given a chaotic start to many of the Washington region’s schools, thanks to a 5.8-magnitude earthquake last week and torrential rain and wind over the weekend.
More than 300,000 students elsewhere in the area were forced to stay home Monday because of hurricane-related damage.
Howard and Charles county school officials decided to delay the first day of school because of widespread power outages and poor road conditions. Schools were also closed Monday in Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, St. Mary’s and Calvert counties. Howard County officials said Monday afternoon that schools would reopen Tuesday.
For D.C. and Maryland students who returned to school last week, the beginning of the new school year has been disrupted by the disasters. Opening day in Prince George’s last Monday went smoothly, but it’s been stop-and-go since. In the first six days of the school calendar, all 198 schools have been closed for at least two of them. Thirty-two schools have missed three days. Six schools have missed four.
Bradbury Heights Elementary in Capitol Heights sustained such structural damage during the earthquake that it won’t open at all this year. Students will be relocated to G. Gardner Shugart Middle School in Temple Hills for the year.
“We had to go into [Bradbury] on Saturday and pack up all our things so we could be ready for Monday,’’ said Denise Lynch, the school’s principal. “We weren’t even thinking about a hurricane.”
Fourteen D.C. public schools also remained closed Monday because of power outages. Anacostia High School parent Marvin Tucker said it’s been frustrating. “Come a day, miss a day. They could have started after Labor Day weekend,” he said.
The biggest dislocation in the District involved residual damage from the earthquake. More than 500 students from the School Without Walls in Foggy Bottom were transplanted to Eastern High School on Capitol Hill on Monday morning because of continuing repairs to a 19th-century bell tower and chimneys.
“Everything seems to be going smoothly,” said Linwood Jolly, president of the Home School Association at the School Without Walls, although he added that DCPS was a little slow in making the move to Eastern. Students were out of school for three days last week after the quake.
Officials said that all DCPS children would be back in school Tuesday.
Monday morning was bright and breezy as Starr kicked off the new year with a news conference in the courtyard of Brookhaven Elementary School in Rockville.
Starr told the parents and school officials assembled that seven schools were still out of service but that “we anticipate everything will be okay” by Tuesday.
By 5 p.m. Monday, power had been restored to four of the seven remaining closed schools.
The 41-year-old educator from Stamford, Conn., is Montgomery’s first new superintendent in 12 years. Starr said he’s excited to take the helm of one of the “premier districts — if not the premier district — in the country” and “absolutely ready” for a great year.
He toured a few classrooms at Brookhaven, in the beginning of a long-term effort to get to know each of the county’s 200 schools. Brookhaven was his third school visit of the day. The first was an early stop at Northwood High School, followed by a quick visit to Burning Tree Elementary, where he dropped off two of his three children.
In Mrs. Ogburn’s third-grade classroom, students had summer vocabulary words such as “swimming pool,” “hot” and “ice cream” taped to their backs. As Starr watched from the front of the room, Ogburn quizzed her students for summer memory loss. “What’s a noun?” she asked.
One girl answered: “A person, place, animal or thing.”
Brookhaven was one of the schools without electricity Sunday morning, but power was restored by 10 a.m., said Principal Rob Grundy.
Brookhaven parent Lara Aribisala said her children, like Starr’s, were anxious to know Sunday whether school would be called off, so she drove by the building to make her own assessment. After seeing the lights on at Brookhaven, she broke the news.
“I was like, ‘Sorry, kids. There is school tomorrow,’ ” she said.
Staff writer Bill Turque contributed to this report.