When Rockville lawyer Ted Wieseman woke up early yesterday and heard on the radio that Montgomery County public schools would be closed because of snow, the father of three saw only one thing to do.
"I made a point of getting up right then and there and sneaking out," said Wieseman, whose wife, Mary, also is a full-time lawyer and whose three children attend elementary school in the county. "I knew our housekeeper was not going to be there and I knew I had to be in court. What could I do?"
Mary Wieseman went to work half-day.
All over Montgomery County, long after much of the first substantial snow of the year had become little more than a soggy memory, parents such as the Wiesemans fretted as their children celebrated the first unscheduled holiday of the school year.
It was a Montgomery County exclusive.
The most Fairfax and Prince George's county students got out of the four-inch snowfall Sunday was a two-hour late start. Students in Arlington started one hour late, those in the District and Alexandria right on time.
That fact made the Wiesemans and other parents none too happy.
"It's a real problem," said Ted Wieseman. "The schools in Montgomery County seem to close with a drop of the hat at the first snowfall."
School was canceled four days last year in Montgomery because of bad weather, compared with two days off in Fairfax and none in Prince George's. District officials say bad weather closed their schools five days.
Montgomery County school officials say there are good reasons why Montgomery has to close its schools more often than most other Washington-area jurisdictions.
The county is farther north and that, they say, usually results in temperatures at least three to five degrees colder than those in the District. The upper county areas north of Gaithersburg are often eight to 10 degrees colder, they add. So, what may look like rain and passable roads to Rockville residents, could mean snow and danger for Damascus.
County school officials said they discussed last March the possiblity of closing schools by region.
But they discarded the idea, feeling that it would confuse parents, and be impractical, given the fact that some programs such as special education, draw from all over the county.
Larry Skinner, the Montgomery County schools' transportation director, was up at 2 a.m., his deputies at 3 a.m, to travel county roads and check on their conditions.
The decision to close down was touch and go until 5:30 a.m. when they called county Superintendent Edward Andrews to recommend closing the county's 151 schools.
The roads in the upper county were icy and slippery, Andrews was told, and a freezing misty rain continued to fall, with no indication that it would let up before noon.
Close, Andrews said.
His decision pleased the children.
"Gee, I was beginning to think we'd never get a snow day this year," said a blond and impish 10-year-old Amy Beye, who went to work with her mother, Linda, assistant administrative director for General Business Services.
Amy, said her mother, had been pacing the floor almost all night asking "Did they call it?" She rose earlier than usual to find out if, as planned, her mother was going to take her to lunch and pay her $1 an hour to do some filing.
At Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor in Bethesda, employes reported a large crowd of children and at Putt Putt Golf Course in Rockville, more than 100 kids lined up to play the 50 video games.
"I guess my boss thought it was great when he woke up and heard it was a snow day," said Putt Putt supervisor Kevin Carr. "But all I thought was, 'oh, no, more business, more kids."