School districts and snow zones

February 25, 1994

School closings and delays over the past two months of Arctic weather have played havoc with academic and home schedules, driving parents, students and teachers alike to the point of desperation. And every time classes are canceled or start late, some people complain that the weather's really not that bad where they live.

In Harford County, Maryland's leader in the weather-shortened school calendar this season, the Harford PTA Council sees a possible solution in adjacent Baltimore County.

Schools in Baltimore County's northern Hereford zone, which is hardest hit by winter conditions, may close or open late without affecting decisions for the rest of the county's schools. Draw a similar "snow zone" boundary in Harford, and let most children get to school in bad weather, even if the north is impassable, some parents argue.

It's a persuasive argument, one that Harford authorities have often heard and rejected.

Hereford is a geographically integrated school system, a small population area with elementary and middle schools feeding a single high school. But that's not the situation in Harford. The weather pockets don't fit so neatly around attendance areas. Pupils living in the southern part of the county may attend school in the north, and vice versa. Some schools could be open with most of their students at home. Plus, much of Harford is located in the same latitude as the Hereford zone, sharing the same harsher conditions.

Harford officials say that's why a northern snow zone just won't work. We are inclined to agree with them, under current conditions.

We are less convinced, however, of their arguments that icy roads afflict all of the county and that all kids should have the same days of schooling. (Ask Fallston Middle and morning kindergarten pupils about their abbreviated school calendar this year.) And we wonder why Cecil County, at the same latitude, keeps schools open more often.

What this winter should emphasize to Harford school officials is that attendance areas and school feeder systems have become too distended, with frequent reshuffling and redistricting, and new schools that are crowded the day they open. The result is a hodge-podge of ever-changing school districts that justify the "no snow zone" verdict.

More coherent, stable school feeder districts would re-establish community-based schools. That could make it more feasible for Harford to create a special bad-weather zone in the future.

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