Returning students brave icy streets, snow-packed sidewalks

Lex Lehr, left, and David Klinger, seventh-graders at Hoover Middle, navigate an unshoveled sidewalk on Postoak Road in Montgomery.
Lex Lehr, left, and David Klinger, seventh-graders at Hoover Middle, navigate an unshoveled sidewalk on Postoak Road in Montgomery. (Deb Lindsey/the Washington Post)
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By Michael Alison Chandler and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Thousands of Washington area students braved icy streets and snow-packed sidewalks as schools reopened Tuesday after a week-long storm break.

School officials throughout the region said the commute went relatively smoothly, given the scores of impassable sidewalks, buried bus stops and bluffs of snow that limited visibility for drivers and children crossing streets.

"No mission accomplished declared yet," said Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for Fairfax County public schools, after a morning commute that included some bumps but no major problems and days of icy conditions ahead.

In many places, the trek required patience, flexibility and creativity. Long delays and road closures were common. Many students waited or walked in the streets because sidewalks were packed with snow, and parents reported dangerous conditions at some bus stops.

Some school buses and cars got stuck on streets where lanes had been narrowed by ice and snow; others had to drop off students far from school doors. At Hollin Meadows Elementary in the Alexandria section of Fairfax, teachers escorted students along the last two blocks to school because the street in front of the building was a traffic jam full of "uber-icy potholes," parent Laura Marshall said.

Schools in Anne Arundel, Fauquier, Frederick, Howard, Prince George's and Prince William counties and the City of Alexandria remained closed Tuesday, after officials had decided that many routes were still not safe for students. Most other districts opened after a one- or two-hour delay.

Nearly all Washington area school systems were expected to resume instruction by Wednesday. Some, including Fairfax and Arlington, planned to return to regular schedules. Others, including Prince William, Prince George's, Howard and Anne Arundel, will reopen with one- to two-hour delays.

Officials implored parents to be flexible and patient. They predicted significant delays and only incremental improvements in icy conditions throughout the week. Many asked parents to carpool or keep children home if conditions are unsafe.

As students return, teachers must catch up on a week's worth of lessons. Standardized state tests are typically administered during a two-week window (four weeks in Virginia), giving school administrators some flexibility to delay testing this spring.

Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland's state superintendent, said she plans to request a waiver from the state Board of Education to allow schools to operate for fewer than the 180-day state minimum.

Officials in the District and Northern Virginia, including Alexandria and Fairfax, are drafting proposals to extend the school day or lengthen the school year to meet minimum requirements for instructional time.

The return to classes follows an unprecedented effort over the holiday weekend to recruit parents, inmates and others to help clear parking lots and sidewalks around school buildings and beyond. Some who pitched in expressed frustration Tuesday morning when they found that plows had covered freshly shoveled paths with chunks of snow.

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