This winter season has been particularly frenzied. A few inches of snow have fallen, only to melt away a few days later due to skyrocketing temperatures of 60 degrees, before returning to a temperature well below freezing. In fact, there has been five snow emergencies within the span of two weeks – the result of three snowstorms.
Immediately after winter break, following an extremely cold New Year’s Day, the first snow storm started. Temperatures from 13 to 27 degrees Fahrenheit combined with an inch of snow to form a dangerous pathway for students. On January 4, Montgomery County closed its schools, giving students a day off just two days after break.
The consequences of the snowstorm rolled over into the next day as well, forcing Montgomery County to delay its schools by two hours on January 5.
A second storm hit hard only 3 days after. On January 8, a Winter Weather Advisory was put into effect—this time for freezing rain and sleet. However, MCPS still opened its schools. It was only until around 10:30 AM when Montgomery County switched its mind, releasing students two and a half hours early.
The next day, MCPS delayed schools due to the ice. Contrary to the recent bitter weather, the temperature increased dramatically, going up to 67 degrees Fahrenheit-and remaining in the 60s- as the week went on.
The following Sunday, the temperature plummeted to a high of 26 degrees. Three days later, on January 17th, the most recent snowstorm fell. Another advisory predicted approximately one inch of snow for Montgomery County.
In an questionable call, MCPS announced for a delay around 5:30 AM. However, at 7:30 AM, it decided to call off the whole school day, causing parents to run back and forth, and resulting in lots of backlash on social media about the calls.
Throughout the winter season, we have seen these series of events repeat itself; some people agree with MCPS decisions, while others criticize them. Many wonder how MCPS decides whether to keep schools open, issue a delay or early release, or close for the whole day.
In their own article, “How Weather Decisions are Made”, Montgomery County states that “information is gathered from…The National Weather Service, Accu-Weather, the news media, actual inspections, and surrounding county information.” In a video, they reveal that at 3:15 AM, the inspections start, and the call is made by 5 AM. However, this is not always followed, such as the call on January 17th, which was 30 minutes after the 7 AM mark.
They also explain why it is necessary to close the entire county instead of only closing affected areas. MCPS claims that because of the various programs offered in the county, 16,000 of its 96,000 students go to schools outside of their local areas, therefore making specified closing impossible. In addition, a majority of the teachers live outside the county, and keeping a portion of the county open might force said teachers to drive through dangerous conditions to get to school.
The toll that this snow season had on teachers in the classroom is obvious. Each snow day forces teachers to prepare a lesson to send to students via email or push more content into each class. In fact, some classes are affected not by the absence of school itself, but by the sudden changes in temperature.
However, even with two snow days, two half days, and one early release, MCPS will not add on more days to the schedule. The year of 2017-2018 contains 182 days which is two days over the Maryland standard of 180 days. Because MCPS has exhausted two extra days already, if there is another snow day, MCPS will add a day to the end of the school year.