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As to Ice, Chicago Still Obama's Kind of Town

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President Barack Obama pauses to gently needle Washington for all but coming to a halt on Wednesday after a dusting of snow and ice. He says school would rarely be scrubbed in hometown Chicago under these conditions. Video by AP

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Area school leaders realized the importance of their decisions even before the leader of the free world weighed in.

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"We had extreme, icy conditions on our roadways today," said Steve Simon, spokesman for the Montgomery County school system. "The sidewalks are just treacherous. We could have had so many injuries."

Fairfax County schools shut partly for parents "who are not used to this weather," said spokesman Paul Regnier.

Many suburban schools shut down yesterday, and D.C. schools delayed opening, because freezing rain overnight left cars and roads coated with a thick gloss of ice. Many private schools also closed, including Sidwell Friends, which Malia and Sasha Obama attend.

Some people said the president should be making nice with his new town. One reader wrote on washingtonpost.com: "If Obama wants to run the schools, he should resign and run for the School Board."

It was the second consecutive snow day for many students in the area. Montgomery schools have closed for weather eight times in the past four school years, Simon said, typical for the region.

At Malia and Sasha's former school, snow days are the stuff of myth.

"I've been here six years, and we haven't closed them yet," not through drifting feet-thick snows, not through freezing winds off Lake Michigan that bring the chill down to 40 below, said David Magill, headmaster of University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

"There are kids playing in the snow outside my window right now," he said. "They're building a fort."

Chicago obsesses about keeping streets clear. A mayor was voted out of office in 1979 over a blizzard that shuttered the city for days. Snowfall averages 38 inches a year in Chicago, 15 inches in Washington. Chicago owns more snowplows.

"I come from a shoveling culture," said Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

At Sidwell Friends, Associate Head of School Ellis Turner replied to the president's challenge in an e-mail to The Washington Post.

"No question, the president is right," Turner wrote. "The next time it snows, we would like to invite him to help us make the decision. His involvement will make it much easier to explain to our students why they won't be able to spend the day sleeping and sledding."

Turner added a tongue-in-cheek reference to the president's school-age years in the Pacific islands: "Or, I suppose Sidwell Friends could merge with Punahou, move our classrooms to Hawaii and never worry about the weather again."

Staff writers Glenn Kessler and Richard Leiby contributed to this report.


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