Three Baltimore elementary schools closed early yesterday to avoid Memorial Stadium traffic from an afternoon doubleheader, aggravating parents, other city residents -- and school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey.
Leonard D. Wheeler, an assistant superintendent for elementary education, decided to close the schools without consulting Dr. Amprey or his two deputies, school officials said.
"The schools were closed, but they were not closed with my permission, that's what I'm upset about," Dr. Amprey, the new school superintendent, said yesterday. "That's something that needs to be tightened up, and that will be done."
Ironically, the horrendous traffic school officials worried about never materialized. About 10,000 people attended yesterday's game between the Orioles and the Boston Red Sox, which was scheduled at the last minute to make up for two rain delays, said Rick Vaughn, director of public affairs for the Orioles.
"We didn't even have to reroute traffic," Mr. Vaughn said.
Unscheduled day games never draw much of a crowd, Mr. Vaughn explained. The last one, in 1989, drew 1,200 people, he said.
"If they had just called us, we would have been happy to give them some advice on that," Mr. Vaughn said.
Just last week, city schools closed early two days in a row because of temperatures in the 90s -- a more common reason for school closings. Yesterday's decision prompted a stream of angry phone calls to radio talk shows, the school system and City Hall. Not all the callers were parents.
"I've lived in Baltimore all my life, which is 70 years," said Harry How. "Closing the schools today, I think whoever did it should get fired. . . . They can't give the kids an education if they're not in school."
About 10:15 a.m. yesterday, Dr. Wheeler decided that Abbottston, Waverly and Montebello elementaries would close at a.m. instead of 2:30 p.m. He made the decision after a query from one of the school principals, who had been getting questions from parents, school officials said.
The decision was in keeping with a school policy which calls for closing those schools early on baseball's Opening Day and on other occasions when weekday games are held in the early afternoon, said Karen V. Poe, a school spokeswoman. The three schools are within blocks of the stadium.
Nicky Johnson, principal at Abbottston Elementary, said parents were calling to find out if the school would close long before the official decision.
"It is very dangerous for the children," Ms. Johnson said of the traffic. "Children cannot compete with metal and rubber tires."
Abbottston PTA president Christine Brown, who has two sons at the school, said the decision to close early was a good one.
"The traffic, it gets really congested, especially when you have a game that started as early as this game did," she said.
But another Abbottston parent, Alice Covell, was not happy.
"They should have let us know a little bit earlier," said Mrs. Covell, who asked her son to stay home from work to pick up her 6-year-old daughter Shimekia. "They had known yesterday that they were going to have a doubleheader game."
Dr. Amprey agreed with the criticism, saying the decision to close was made "because of panic."
"It may have been a good decision based on the traffic patterns," he added. "[But] I think we could have done a better job making the decision. I, as superintendent, have the responsibility for that."