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How local school systems flip-flopped on Thursday snow closures

WASHINGTON — A storm initially predicted to be a mid-morning washout ended up dumping more snow than expected, causing some D.C.- area school systems to cancel classes after first announcing delayed openings.

“It was quite a bit more robust than anticipated. This little, small storm overperformed,” said Jeffrey Platenberg, the person responsible for making snow-related decisions for Fairfax County Public Schools.

The Fairfax County and Montgomery County public school systems initially planned to open Thursday with two-hour delays. Decisions to close were made at 8 a.m. in Fairfax County and 8:35 a.m. in Montgomery County.

Even as late as a 3 a.m. Thursday, a Council Of Governments conference call including the National Weather Service, state transportation departments, the federal government and area school officials involved discussions of the expected impact being minimal.

“A light rain to sleet mix is expected with not much accumulation on the road. Any accumulation will be sporadic and less than an inch,” a weather advisory subsequently emailed to the COG partners stated.

Numbers of area school systems decided to stay open. Among them: D.C., Prince George’sArlington, Alexandria and Falls Church City.

“At 2 o’clock this afternoon — no — we’re not thinking it was a good decision. But as late as 6:30 and 7 o’clock after our busses were already starting to pick up students, we still thought it was a good decision,” Falls Church City Public Schools spokesman John Brett said.

“We were listening to WTOP…saying it should have no trouble inside the Beltway and we might have a little dusting on the grass,” he added.

The evolution of the forecast caught everyone by surprise, Brett said, while adding that the school system’s “best educated guess” also was based on a 4:30 a.m. school system conference call discussing myriad factors, such as projected road temperature data, weather reports and what surrounding jurisdictions and the feds were doing.

“The safety of our students is our top priority,” Brett emphasized, echoing sentiments shared by Platenberg, who is assistant superintendent, department of facilities and transportation services, for Fairfax County Public Schools.

“The inconveniences that come with these decisions — while I’ll apologize for them — as long as we’re erring on the side of safety for students then I really, I don’t feel bad about that,” Platenberg said.

In Prince George’s County, “a county that stretches over 500 square miles, it can be snowing in Laurel, but only cloudy in Accokeek,” Interim CEO Monica Goldson said in a news release Thursday afternoon. Goldson said they made an initial survey at 3 a.m. and based on the information they had at that time, they made the decision to remain open. When buses hit the road at 6 a.m., “the only precipitation they saw was rain,” Goldson said.

Goldson also committed to erring on the side of caution when making weather related decisions in the future.

Deciding to keep schools open, Baltimore City Public Schools acknowledged factoring in the needs of working parents, for whom finding last-minute child care is difficult and missing work isn’t always an option.

An email sent to parents said in part: “Today’s forecast for Baltimore City made things challenging, since it called for snow changing to rain by mid-morning. While that changeover is happening later than predicted, our weather forecasting service still expects it to happen prior to school dismissal. We have therefore decided to keep schools open until the regular dismissal time.”


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