- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

Predictions of hazardous weather prompted suburban school systems across the region to call off classes yesterday, but the forecast for students in D.C. Public Schools remained the same as it has all year: Bring your books, because schools will be open.

The city’s school system was the only one in the region that did not cancel classes in the face of a winter storm that dumped snow and ice over much of the Northeast yesterday, despite weather forecasts for freezing rain and sleet.

The storm was part of a massive system that blanketed much of the Northeast in snow yesterday after bringing freezing rain, sleet and snow to parts of Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois a day earlier.

City school officials have not called off or delayed classes this year for weather-related reasons.

“We’re watching to see if there is a very obvious threat,” schools spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said. “And there hasn’t been at all this year.”

The District stands out from many urban and suburban school systems in that it does not provide bus service for the vast majority of its 49,000 students, most of whom walk or use mass transit.

Freezing rain fell in the early morning and caused some minor problems in Maryland.

More than 15 vehicles collided shortly after 7 a.m. on a ramp from Interstate 270 to I-370 in Gaithersburg, police said. No one was injured but the ramp was closed for about 45 minutes.

George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers Union, said the decision to open on time “appeared to show a lack of sensitivity and concern for the safety” of teachers, students and staff who live outside the District.

“D.C. Public Schools should not expect teachers to jeopardize their safety when reporting to work,” Mr. Parker said.

Miss Hobson said that the school system’s primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of its students, the bulk of whom live in the District.

“We have to make a decision based on what’s going on in D.C.,” she said.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend said the combination of aggressive snow and ice removal and decision by officials to keep schools open is a big leap for the city which has historically struggled to deal with winter storms.

“[The District] is no longer treating snow removal like a southern city,” Mr. Townsend said. “They have a big-city approach.”

Parents and caregivers picking up children at Watkins Elementary School in Southeast generally were pleased that classes were in session.

Doris Davis, whose 6-year-old son Marsten attends Watkins Elementary in Southeast, said other school districts can be too hasty in canceling classes.

“I know we have snow days, but I don’t see no snow on the ground,” said Mrs. Davis, 42, of Southeast. “I totally agree. I think Mayor [Adrian M.] Fenty’s making good decisions.”

But Kanika Bolton, who was picking up her 4-year-old daughter, Ashani, said the city should take the same actions as the surrounding jurisdictions.

“If [the weather] is bad enough for most of D.C. charter schools and everyone around us, it should be for us,” said Ms. Bolton, 28, of Southeast. “It was pretty icy. I believe we should have at least gotten a delay.”

John White, a Prince George’s County schools spokesman, said the decision was made to “err on the side of being safe” and close the schools. It was the first time this school year that the system, with 207 schools and 131,000 students, has canceled classes because of weather.

“It’s easy to second-guess at almost noon,” Mr. White said. “But at 5 a.m. — when freezing rain is falling and the temperatures are where they are and the forecast is what it is and the conditions are icy — you make a decision based on whether we can get all students to school safely.”

Frank Bellavia, spokesman for the 18,517-student Arlington County school system, said yesterday also was the first time schools were closed in the county for weather this year.

“They look at road conditions, what the weather’s going to be throughout the day and they make the decision accordingly,” Mr. Bellavia said.

Half a foot of snow fell in New York City yesterday, and storm warnings extended across Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire complicating travel along the nation’s Northeast Corridor.

More than 900 flights were canceled at three major airports in the New York area yesterday, with reported delays of up to five hours at Newark Liberty International Airport, three hours at LaGuardia Airport and one and a half hours at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

In Philadelphia, the average arriving flight was four and a half hours late.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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