Area Schools Feel Force of Terrorist Attacks
By Liz Seymour and Annie Gowen
Its pretty chaotic, said Anne Arundel schools spokeswoman Jane Beckett. Were getting a lot of phone calls, and a lot of parents are picking their kids up. Complicating Anne Arundels situation were the seven schools that sit on the Fort Meade base in the western part of the county. The district decided to close down an hour and a half early.
In Northern Virginia, parents were welcome to pick up children at any time as long as they presented proper identification. By 11 a.m., an estimated 50 parents had come to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County to get their teens. In Prince William County, officials have not received a deluge of phone calls from concerned parents, said Irene Cromer, a school spokeswoman.
Extra security precautions have been taken in every Northern Virginia school district. All school doors are locked and children are not allowed outside for recess, lunch or gym class today, said officials in Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Loudoun, and Prince William counties. Northern Virginia students attending classes in trailers, which are located on school grounds but are not physically attached to the school, are being evacuated and sent to the main building.
Officials said they were reluctant to close schools early. Buses would encounter the traffic gridlock from commuters returning from the District and the Pentagon area. They also said they didnt want to release students before the usual dismissal time because many have working parents.
Besides, said Kitty Porterfield, a spokeswoman for Fairfax County Public Schools, we figure this is the safest place for them to be.
In Maryland, Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) declared a state of emergency, but stopped short of closing schools, leaving it up to the local superintendents. Parents might be tied up in traffic and cant get home right away, said a spokesman. He wants the individual school systems to decide when they actually close. Schools in Montgomery County decided to close down and hour early and Prince Georges two hours early. St. Marys County closed schools on a staggered schedule. Howard closed a half hour early, which was as quick as it could get its buses to the schools.
Calvert County decided to keep its schools open in part because parents, many of them who work for the federal government, were having trouble leaving in the melee and traffic problems in the District.
We think that children are safer right were they are than to go home where there is no parent there, said a spokesman for the Calvert schools. Frederick schools also remained open.
In the District, extra security officials were sent to the schools by the federal government.
In Fairfax, students and teachers were glued to televisions sets in classrooms and discussing the terrorist attacks. Counselors were available to meet with students and staff, many of whom have spouses or other relatives working in D.C. and the Pentagon area.
At Thomas Jefferson, Principal Elizabeth Lodal said she has lifted the school ban on cell phone use inside the building so students can call their families.
The thing we need to do is stay calm, Lodal said.
Principal James Person at Stone Bridge High School in Loudoun County said there are pockets of schoolwork going on, but it has been tough for students and teachers to keep their minds off the news.
Theyre trying but it is extremely difficult, he said. We had a lot of TVsets on at the beginning of the day.
Staff writer Darragh Johnson contributed to this report.