Snow day turns into snow week for District area schools

After two recent snowstorms closed the federal government and schools across the region, people began digging out. The season's snow tally in D.C. reached 55.6 inches Wednesday -- more than the last record of 54.4 inches, set in 1898-99.
By Michael Birnbaum and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Loudoun County school officials announced Monday that they are canceling class until Feb. 16, saying it will take until Sunday to excavate their buses. All other school districts in the Washington area planned to remain closed Tuesday as they awaited another snowstorm set to hit Tuesday night.

Closure questions triggered a brief but intense controversy early Sunday evening, when Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee first announced that D.C. schools would open Monday on a two-hour delay but later reversed herself and closed them.

In Loudoun, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III said in a statement that students simply wouldn't be able to get to school until next week.

"It will probably take until Sunday to dig out our 770 buses and make them trip worthy," he wrote. Last week, Loudoun was out Wednesday and Friday, and it will sit out the Presidents' Day holiday, as well. The county does not plan to reschedule classes and has 15 days of leeway built into its calendar, a spokesman said.

All other Washington area school systems plan to remain closed, although none went as far as Loudoun. As of Monday evening, Fairfax County schools decided to close Tuesday and Wednesday. Schools in the District and Alexandria and in Montgomery, Prince George's, Prince William, Arlington, Anne Arundel and Howard counties will be closed Tuesday.

In the District, school e-mail groups erupted during the Super Bowl with angry postings denouncing the decision to keep schools open as reckless, given that about half of the system's 46,000 students attend school outside their neighborhood boundaries. Although some sidewalks are cleared, large drifts of snow at the corners and curbside made dropoffs dangerous, parents said.

"This is a tragedy waiting to occur," Janet Myers, mother of a junior at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, wrote in an e-mail to Rhee and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D).

Many parents wondered aloud whether Fenty was pushing to open the schools as a way of showing that he had managed to keep the city functioning during the record-setting storm. "It was the mayor trying to say he did an excellent job of snow removal," Marvin Tucker, a parent at Anacostia High School, said in an interview.

In an e-mail, Rhee wrote that information "changes as the day goes on and we made decisions accordingly." Fenty said he wouldn't discuss his "mens rea," a legal term for criminal intent.

Fenty and Rhee also faced the possibility of understaffed schools. Many teachers live outside the District, making morning commutes difficult. Within three hours, the decision to open schools on Monday had been scrapped.

Looking for admissions advice? Campus news? Reports on college life? Please visit our new Higher Education page at Bookmark it!

© 2010 The Washington Post Company