Students get early jump on holidays

Snow closes most districts, to parents' consternation

December 23, 2009|By Julie Scharper | julie.scharper@baltsun.com

For schoolchildren, the weekend's historic storm brought a fantasy to life - a winter vacation stretched by three days into an expanse of time as open as a field of new-fallen snow.

But parents say the unexpected time off has brought enormous holiday headaches. While they cherish extra hours with their children, having a houseful of giddy kids complicates last-minute shopping and baking, and even presents some logistical issues for Santa.

Schools in Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard counties and Baltimore City are closed today because of snow - the third consecutive day of canceled classes - and won't reopen until winter vacation ends Jan. 4.

Baltimore County schools are opening two hours late today and will be closed Thursday for the holidays.

"Its pretty rough, really," said Lynn Bartolotta of Ellicott City, whose four children have been home - romping in the snow, bickering and occasionally crying - since Friday. Bartolotta was out from work with a case of laryngitis Monday and, as she watched her husband drive off to work, realized she would be alone with four kids and no voice.

The children have been enjoying the snow, but Bartolotta said she needs to quickly plan some day trips for next week. "When the snow is gone, we're going to be in big trouble," she said.

After four days, a mere fraction of the 15-day break coming to most area children, some little hands have already made mischief.

While waiting for a prescription at a Giant supermarket in Columbia on Tuesday afternoon, Sharon Shomette suddenly discovered that her 5-year-old daughter Cami's eyelashes had been snipped with a pair of scissors.

While Cami and Claudia, 6, protested their innocence, Shomette shook her head over the school system's decision to stay closed. "I think it's crazy" to cancel classes today, she said. "They're home cutting each other's eyelashes off."

"Our school is a walking school," Shomette said of Stevens Forest Elementary in Oakland Mills. "I'm out there driving my kids around on the roads. They're driving me crazy," she said, shooing Cami away from a beeping blood-pressure machine in which the girl had inserted an arm.

School officials said they decided to cancel classes not to extend the holiday break but because many sidewalks are still filled with snow and students would be forced to walk in the streets.

"Many of the sidewalks and paths that the walkers use have not been cleaned," said Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for Howard County schools. "We have 10,000 walkers, so that is a pretty big deal."

And piles of snow at bus stops would force students to stand in the street while waiting for buses.

For many working parents, finding care for their children during the busy holiday season is a challenge. Monica Beeman of Owings Mills said she was grateful that her 3-year-old son's preschool would accept her older son when kindergarten was closed.

"Otherwise, I'd probably be bald because I'd be pulling my hair out," said Beeman who is working from home in preparation for opening a wine-making supply store in the spring.

The snow has complicated Beeman's Christmas shopping plans. Since the boys are notorious snoopers, Beeman usually does her shopping at the last minute and would have been buying toys on Saturday if it weren't for the snow. Now she is waiting for her mother to arrive from New Jersey to watch the boys so that she can sneak out at night.

Some parents said that while they welcomed the chance to spend time at home with their children during the holidays, they and their children were disappointed that class parties would be canceled.

Susan Coakley of Pasadena said her two daughters were sad to miss holiday parties that had been scheduled for today. "I feel bad for the class parents who worked hard to plan the holiday parties for our children and who now have food, crafts and games that they cannot use," said Coakley, the Linthicum Elementary School PTA president.

Most Baltimore City students either walk to school or take an MTA bus, but about 4,000, many of them special-education students, arrive at school on yellow buses. Keith Scroggins, the chief operating officer, said bus drivers went out Tuesday on trial runs and came back saying they would not be able to make all the pickups they need to today because streets are still only partially cleared in some cases.

Scroggins said the city has done a great job of clearing streets, but there are still cars parked several feet from the curb or at an angle, making it difficult for buses to get through.

"If we can't guarantee that all our kids can safely get to school, then we don't open school," he said.

Carroll County schools had been scheduled to close early today, so a delayed start time would have reduced the school day to a few hours, a school system spokeswoman said.

Baltimore County was the only system to announce on Tuesday that it would open. Charles Herndon, a spokesman, said school workers and county crews had made good progress clearing paths and that officials saw no reason not to open.

"Hopefully, there will be some learning going on" today, he said.

While some parents were boggled by the school closures, nearly all said their children found the lengthy vacation an unexpected treat.

"Being from Erie, Pa., where snow like this is normal, I'm always shocked by how the state shuts down," said Robin Myers of Frederick in an e-mail to a reporter, adding that she was delighted to spend the week with her two children. "My son says that this is the best Christmas gift ever."

Baltimore Sun reporters Liz Bowie, Joe Burris and Larry Carson contributed to this article.

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