Snow snarls roads, shuts schools, stirs tempers Berger upsets some Baltimore Co. parents for a late decision on sending kids home

December 11, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer Staff writer Frank Roylance contributed to this article.

Those people making sudden U-turns during yesterday' heaviest snowfall may well have been parents of Baltimore County elementary school students.

They were reacting, often furiously, to the school system's own U-turn in deciding, after 8 a.m., to close its 94 elementary schools and leave open its secondary schools. Many elementary schoolchildren were already at school when the word filtered down, and more waited on corners for buses that never came.

Parents who thought their children were nestled snug in their schools suddenly had to put their own snow-emergency plans into effect, calling neighbors and grandparents and taking unscheduled vacation days to care for their youngsters.

The late announcement, dictated by a snowfall that started well after the county's buses began running, brought a blizzard of outraged calls to the school system's offices and area radio stations.

"I've talked to more very, very angry people [this morning] than I ever did before," said school spokesman Richard Bavaria, who manned the early switchboard. "Lots of parents are saying we made an idiotic decision. One man called us brain-dead."

WBAL Radio was "flooded with calls for literally three hours" during the Alan Prell morning talk show, according to station manager Jeff Beauchamp. "Ninety percent of them were Baltimore County parents who were upset that a decision was not made earlier and the decision was not consistent [for all grade levels]," he said.

It was the first snow decision for the new superintendent of schools, Stuart Berger, and he defended it.

"It could not have snowed at a worse time. When I walked out of my house at 7:30, there wasn't any snow," he said. "If I called off school at 6:30 a.m. and it didn't snow, parents would have been calling us jerks. They're calling us worse. It's a no-win situation."

The county's buses start their mornings by picking up high school students, then middle school students. They finish with elementary schools. It wasn't until the elementary runs were under way that drivers began reporting impassable roads.

Dr. Berger said that on snow days, older children often take care of younger brothers and sisters. With secondary school students already in classes, he said, he was reluctant to close elementary schools unless he absolutely had to.

Towson mother Ellen Xanders wasn't calling anyone names, but she might have. Her sons were in before-school day care at Riderwood Elementary school and she was already at her teaching job at the Gilman School when she heard that Riderwood was shutting down.

Turning her third-graders over to her husband, who also teaches at the private boys' school, Mrs. Xanders set out in her old Toyota to pick up her youngsters. The seven-minute trip took an hour -- but that was only part of it.

While crossing an icy bridge on Ruxton Road near Bellona Avenue, "I crashed into the guardrail," Mrs. Xanders said. Two men who spoke only Spanish pushed her car away from the rail and got her going. Luckily, Mrs. Xanders speaks Spanish, too. A little farther, on Ellenham Avenue, she parked her car in a friend's driveway and ran about a half-mile to the school. "At Riderwood, I finally burst into tears," she recalled.

On her way back to Gilman, "I slipped and slid and got stuck in a ditch." Again, some good Samaritans helped her. Safely back at her school yesterday afternoon, Mrs. Xanders summed it up: "My car looks awful. And I've got a headache."

Parents weren't the only ones inconvenienced.

For three Baltimore County teachers who car-pool for the 30-minute trip from Rodgers Forge to Reisterstown, yesterday's commute became a 3 1/2 -hour ordeal by snow.

"We left at 7:30 a.m. and it was just a bit snowy," said one, who asked that her name not be used. "Then, all of a sudden it was just horrendous snow and freezing roads."

By 9:15 a.m., she said, they were still on Greenspring Drive and decided to abandon the trip to work. Only then did they hearon the radio that school had been canceled. It would take them until nearly 11 to make their way back home.

Not everyone was critical of the late decision. "I thought it was a good call," said Sharon Keech of Catonsville, who works from her home. "My kids had their coats on and were ready to go when we heard it from a neighbor. I'm not put out about it."

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