Marooned at Home

Marooned at Home

Ice causes Montgomery County Public Schools to close for the third consecutive day; any more snow days will be made up at the end of the school year.

Staring down the icy slope in front of them, a bitter wind whipping their faces, Emet Zeitz and Lazar Zamurobic pulled their Bells Mill Elementary compatriots together and formed a plan: Attack the hill as one.

They lined their sleds up end-to-end, each rider holding onto the sled in front of him, and then pushed their way to the brink of the hill behind Cabin John Middle School. Over and over again the students formed sled trains and bombed their way down the icy slope toward the school’s iced-over basketball courts.

“Wicked,” said Lazar of his third day off of school. “The best part is that we won’t have had school for six-and-a-half days.”

Zamurobic’s point was accurate. The scheduled closing of Montgomery County Schools on Feb. 19 in observance of President’s Day meant that parents of the county’s public-school students had their kids at home for nearly a full week.

THE STORM that moved through the Washington, D.C. area on Monday, Feb. 12 and Tuesday, Feb. 13 brought mostly sleet and freezing rain, and sub-freezing temperatures in the ensuing days made traveling difficult throughout the county.

Montgomery County Public Schools closed early on Tuesday afternoon, as the weather worsened earlier than forecasts had predicted, said Kate Harrison, a spokesperson for Montgomery County Public Schools. Treacherous traveling conditions forced the county to close its schools on Wednesday and Thursday.

By Friday morning, 24 of the county’s schools still had significant snow and ice in parking areas and walkways, said Harrison.

The snow and ice piles “are really like blocks of concrete,” Harrison said. “This kind of ice really requires some heavier equipment.” That heavier equipment, including larger machines that could break up the ice and lift heavier loads, wasn’t available to Montgomery County Public Schools until Friday, Harrison said, because it was being used to clear the county’s roads and facilities.

“The long and short of it is that even though there’s been no precipitation … there are too many schools where it isn’t safe,” said Harrison. “We don’t close schools easily; we prefer to have schools in class.”

The end result of the school closures could mean that students will be in school longer than originally planned. Harrison said that the Montgomery County Public Schools calendar provides for four weather-related closings in a 180-day school year. The three closings last week, combined with the other closing on Feb. 7, have put the county at its threshold. Any further snow days will result in those days being added on to the end of the school year, Harrison said, and will push the school year past its currently scheduled final date of June 14. Early cancellations are not a part of that calculation, Harrison said.

The last time that Montgomery County Public Schools closed for more than two consecutive days due to weather was in 2003 when Hurricane Isabel forced schools to close Sept. 18, 19, and 22 (Thursday, Friday and the following Monday), Harrison said. In 1996 the county’s schools were closed Jan. 8-12 after a snowstorm dumped 2-3 feet of snow, said Harrison.

DAVID WILSON joined his stepson Tristan at Cabin John Middle School for sledding on Friday, but even so he was tired of the school closings.

“Three-and-a-half days is too much,” David Wilson said. He works as an IT consultant in Alexandria, VA, but stayed home to watch Tristan while school was closed. “There’s only so much I can do from home.” Staying home did have its perks, though, Wilson said, before he sat down on his sled and sped down the hill.

Nearby, the Bells Mill Elementary group was forming another sled train.

“This is awesome,” said Zeitz, a fourth-grader at Bells Mill. Then the train pushed off, gathering speed as it descended the ice-glazed slope.