3/8 TC Two area school systems gambled with yesterday's surprise snowstorm and lost -- at least in the public relations category.
While the other four counties in the metropolitan area closed because of the snow, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore decided to stay open.
When the storm gradually worsened and calls from parents dramatically increased, both then rushed to send students home early.
City school officials decide by 6 a.m. whether to open school for the day or to close because of weather conditions, said Douglas J. Neilson, a school spokesman.
That decision is made by Lester C. McCrea, the superintendent's executive assistant, who consults with other city officials and considers such factors as visibility, road conditions and the weather forecast.
Neilson said the city does not have the option of a delayed opening, as do suburban counties with their own school buses.
Most of the nearly 30,000 city students who ride the bus use the Mass Transit Administration, which increases its bus runs for students only during the morning and afternoon school dismissal hours.
About 22,000 students are eligible for MTA passes, Neilson said. Another 6,700 students ride other contracted private buses, about half of those handicapped students. About 170 handicapped students ride 35 buses run by the school system.
City schools opened as usual yesterday, but by midmorning McCrea had decided on a 1 p.m. close, instead of the usual closing time, which varies from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. depending on the school.
"At the time we reached the decision [to open], the roads were just wet" and forecasters were calling for just an inch to 3 inches of snow, said Neilson.
However, when the decision to close early was made, secondary roads were snowy. A major reason for closing early was to get students home well before the start of what was expected to be a chaotic afternoon rush hour, said Neilson.
Schools were left open long enough to serve lunch. Neilson said students were allowed to remain in the schools until they could arrange transportation.
In Anne Arundel County, the storm caught the school system in its own personal Catch-22.
School officials, having decided to open when all around them were electing to close, later realized the storm was worse in some areas of the county.
"Part of our problem is we're a very long county," school spokeswoman Jane Doyle said. "There was a large disparity between the northern part of the county, Annapolis and the southern part. We had calls all morning from parents in the Glen Burnie area. I'm told they had a lot more snow earlier."