A day after a fall snowstorm paralyzed much of the Washington area, many parents were still angry at leaders in Prince George's and Fairfax counties, where hundreds of students were stranded for hours in stalled buses or kept late into the night at schools.

Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening, whose road crews are responsible for plowing school streets where many buses became mired in deep snow, acknowledged the parents' frustrations yesterday but said it was not time for pinpointing blame.

"It was simply not acceptable that kids should be snowbound until 10 p.m. and in some cases later, and that parents should have to worry about them," Glendening said at a news conference in which he conceded that coordination between his agencies and schools had been poor.

In the aftermath of the storm that dumped a foot or more of snow on parts of the area, parents seethed about the response to the storm.

"I'm really upset that they didn't just close school when it was sleeting at 9 a.m.," said Deena Odhner, whose two children attend Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt and Kenmoor Middle School in Landover. One of her daughters made it home, walking part of the way, four hours after school recessed, she said. Eighth grader Eva arrived home around 9 p.m., six hours after school closed.

"Next time it's snowing, I'm not sending my child to school," said Kathy Donahoe of Fairfax, where schools opened on time. "They should have had a two-hour delay, then they would have had time" to react, she said.

School officials in Prince George's County defended their decisions not to close schools or send children home earlier as the unexpected strength of the storm became evident.

"That would've been the wrong decision to make based on the information we had," Prince George's School Superintendent John A. Murphy said yesterday.

Murphy said the system was the victim of a freak snowstorm and inaccurate weather reports. No different measures could have been taken to prevent the kind of situation the school found itself in, he said.

But Glendening, with tempered criticism, complained at a news conference that school authorities did not notify the county of the problems they were having until 9:30 p.m.

Glendening sent his administrative officer to meet with Murphy yesterday to discuss ways to coordinate county and school resources during snow emergencies.

The county could use emergency vehicles, off-duty police cruisers and fire vehicles in such cases, Glendening said.

"The breakdown was {that} the county did not bring all the resources to bear as quickly because we were not aware," Glendening said.

By 10 p.m., more than 400 students were still stranded at Prince George's schools and more than 100 were still in the buildings around midnight.

Although most of the county's 103,000 students made it home before dark, many had to plow through snow after paralyzed buses could not let them off close to home. Other youngsters spent more than four harrowing hours on buses that slipped and slid, miraculously without serious injury to anyone.

In Fairfax County, children in the Springfield and Hayfield communities bore the brunt of the traffic tie-ups that kept them from reaching home until about 10 p.m.

Prince George's school officials opted to open schools two hours late on Veterans Day, and by 11 a.m. were told that the snow would taper off in the early afternoon. They decided to wait and send children home an hour early.

But Valley View Elementary School Principal Beatrice Skarewitz said she was concerned about the "large, flat flakes" that she could see falling outside her school around 11. By 12:30, she decided to send home most of the children who lived within walking distance.

In Prince George's, school buses operate on a staggered schedule, picking up and dropping off an average of 70,000 students.

But on Wednesday, the earliest that some schools even saw buses was around 6 p.m., after weary drivers had already been stuck in the snow with other youngsters.

In the meantime, many parents found school phones busy or unanswered when they tried to get word on the children.

Jason Reinke, a Kenmoor student, managed to use a library phone to call his parents Alice and Bob. A network of parents in the Mitchellville community passed along the information from Jason's call.

After 9 p.m., county fire department workers distributed 400 McDonald's hamburgers and 100 box lunches of roast beef sandwiches, soup, cookies and apples from the county jail. More than 400 blankets were donated by Andrews Air Force Base and the Red Cross. The food and blankets were sent to 20 schools.

The roads posed the greatest challenge to the schools' fleet of 800 buses.

"Probably half the fleet at some time or another was stuck," said Transportation Director John Huffman, who credited faithful drivers with sticking to their tasks until the last runs were made.

Some parents complained that bus drivers forced children off the buses too far from home, while others praised determined drivers who saw the last of their charges safely home.

School buses have four rear dual treaded tires year round, Huffman said.

A Lorton official and three mechanics helped rescue a busload of handicapped children, one of them a diabetic in desperate need of insulin, after the bus was stuck in traffic on Silverbrook Road near Lorton. The four men helped school officials take the children, one in a wheelchair, down an icy hill to a second school bus that got permission to park on the Lorton complex.

Staff writers Retha Hill, Alice Digilio, Sue Anne Pressley and D'Vera Cohn contributed to this report.