Schools reopen despite glitches Students survive snowy obstacles to return to class

January 17, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Maryland schoolchildren yesterday braved slushy streets, ice- and snow-covered sidewalks and bus stops piled high with snow, but most managed to arrive for the first day of classes since the Blizzard of '96.

One school-related injury occurred when a Howard County student on his way home was hit by a car and scraped his face.

Heavy traffic and semi-plowed streets and parking lots made for harried morning and evening commuting, and late arrivals were almost universal. At some Baltimore County schools, principals and assistant principals were directing traffic.

"We knew that there would be some tough sidewalks, and there were, but most students were able to get to school," said Baltimore County schools spokesman Donald Mohler.

At Leith Walk Elementary School in Northeast Baltimore, where students have one of the city's highest attendance rates, even the principal arrived late yesterday. More than a week after the blizzard closed city schools, Edna Greer emerged from ice- and snow-covered side streets 20 minutes after school should have begun.

"I've been driving around looking for a place to park for 15 minutes," said the principal, with a frustrated laugh.

Adam Kreis, a senior at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City, was one of about a dozen students who scurried across the school parking lot seven minutes after the 9:30 a.m. school start.

"I'm not too happy about it," he said about his late arrival. "I had to drive slow over ice on the road. That's why I'm late."

Most school systems started an hour or two late to allow rush-hour traffic to dissipate and so that students would not have to make their way in the dark.

Baltimore County schools will open one hour late this morning, and Anne Arundel schools will open two hours late for the rest of the week. Officials in Harford and Carroll counties said they would not make a decision until this morning. Schools in Howard County and the city were to open on time, although Baltimore will be flexible in allowing absences and tardiness.

Safety of the children making their way to school was of paramount concern to both parents and school officials yesterday. Four minor accidents involving Baltimore County school buses were reported, but school transportation officials said that was "not unusual." No one was injured.

Many students who found the sidewalks impassable walked in the road, sharing the narrow space with cars, trucks and buses.

Student hit by car

In Howard County, a 14-year-old Oakland Mills High School student was hit by a car on his way home from school in Columbia yesterday.

Ryan Murphy, a freshman, suffered abrasions to the face in the 2:20 p.m. accident, but was able to walk back to the roadside to get out of traffic in the 5600 block of Thunderhill Road, according to witnesses and Lt. Chris Shimer of the county Fire Department. The youth was taken to Howard County General Hospital, where he was treated and released.

And children everywhere were slipping and sliding.

Charles Lohr, a school safety guard outside Saint Johns Lane Elementary School in Ellicott City, said he had seen several of his schoolmates hit the pavement.

"I tell them to slow down and not to walk close to the sides," said Charles, a fifth-grader. "It's slippery out here."

Officials in several jurisdictions pleaded with residents to shovel their sidewalks so children would not have to walk over piles of snow and sheets of ice to get to a bus stop or their school.

"The more cooperation we have in terms of residents clearing their sidewalks, which is mandated by the city, the safer our students will be," said Catherine Foster, a Baltimore schools spokeswoman.

Even with the difficult conditions, school systems reported that attendance was good in most places, slightly below average in some. At Eastern Technical High School in Essex, almost 96 percent of the students were present yesterday, and "that's pretty healthy," said principal Robert Kemmery.

Spirits were high at Joppa View Elementary School in Perry Hall, where the school's 16 buses arrived on time, releasing energetic children eager to work off a week's worth of cabin fever.

"The good news is that everybody is really happy to be here," said principal Darla Evans.

A survey of 25 schools in Baltimore showed most with attendance in the high 70s percentile, a couple in the mid-80s percent range and one high school with more than 90 percent of its students. The average attendance at Baltimore City schools is 92.5 percent for elementary schools and 81 percent for secondary schools.

"Most of the kids made it in, the ones who are normally there," said Ms. Foster, the Baltimore schools spokeswoman.

Some students in the city who did not make it to school found that their bus did not stop where it regularly does. The problem, said Anthony Brown of the Mass Transit Administration, is that buses cannot make it down some streets and have been temporarily diverted.

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