Should APS Have Let Kids Out Early?

by ARLnow.com December 17, 2010 at 8:41 am 3,429 68 Comments

In a move that was probably cheered by many working parents and by anybody who spent their childhood in snowier locales, Arlington Public Schools administrators declined to take the “easy” route of letting kids out of school early at the first sign of snowflakes.

Instead, while Fairfax and Loudoun students enjoyed a two-hour early release, Arlington students toughed it out.

It was a somewhat gutsy call, because anything that goes wrong on the way home is going to to be blamed on the administrators. And yes, things did go wrong.

We heard of at least three accidents involving school buses caused by the slippery conditions yesterday. There were no injuries reported in any of the accidents, but at least one after-school accident — at Kirkwood Road and 14th Street North — did involve a bus that was carrying kids at the time.

The buses, which seem to have an tough time finding traction on hilly, snow-covered county roads, ran late as a result of the poor conditions. In at least one case, the buses were running very late, as this email from a concerned APS parent points out.

I am new to the Arlington County School system, as my oldest child just entered kindergarten this year. I was somewhat surprised yesterday when every other county let out early, but APS did not. I did receive an email from the school’s assistant principal to inform me that the buses might be somewhat delayed. However, after waiting out at the bus stop for 40 minutes (with my two other small children), I called the school to find out when I could expect the bus. I was told that 2 of the buses had not even arrived yet to pick the children up, (at 4:45, an hour after normal release time), and my 5 year old was sitting in the office at the school. When I became upset, I was told by the woman on the phone “You have to understand. Some of the roads are impassable.” I was then told it would probably be best if I just came to pick up my child.

If APS cannot insure the safe transportation of all their students during inclement weather, shouldn’t that be a factor in their decision making?

If you were a school administrator, what would you have done?

Flickr pool photo by afagen

  • Lou

    It’s such a gray area, because I’m sure plenty of kids got home fine. The simplistic way to look at it is like this: if you keep the kids for the full day, prepare to have your snow removal trucks out making all of the bus routes clear. If you can’t commit to that, call early release.

  • Rover

    When I was a kid I used to walk 5 miles to school in the snow every day, uphill both ways. These pansy kids are spoiled.

    • Boomer

      Heck, when I was young I had to walk miles and miles uphill both ways to buy drugs.

      • Rover

        I see you got your drugs in the public schools.

  • The roads were fine. Arlington has learned its lesson after years of bad calls.

    Years ago, the weathermen proclaimed doom and gloom and a blizzard. We woke up— there was NO snow on the ground. None. But Arlington had canceled school. APS and the School Board got an ear full from citizens who had to now scramble for child care (many many two working families in Arlington).

    APS is now very patient with its calls. It does not make the call until it needs to. I think the call is now made at about 5 am -when the go/no go decision must be made. And frankly lately its almost always been right on the mark.

    For APS to make the decision, I am not sure what the impact is. To get kids to school the buses must run for about 3 hours? And the buses run during the day shuttling kids to and from the career center and the pools and the other APS facilities. On top of that, APS must consider whether there will be parents at home waiting for the kids, and about their own staff. During the day, to make the decision for early release, this is a significant logistical situation that needs justification.

    Given the amount of snow yesterday and the condition of the roads, Arlington made the right decision.

    And note, APS *DID* close early. There was no after school activities. That’s about 2 hours right there. That is a significant change in the school calender, but with minimal disruption to the school day.

    Finally, buses break down. I dont know why this bus had problems. But on any given day, there is bus somewhere in Arlington that did not make its route (that’s probably not entirely true – APS buses are very reliable). But they break down or have trouble. Is that because of the snow?? There is no causal connection. I mean otherwise, the next time a bus fails on its route, and its really sunny out, then we should conclude that there should be early release on sunny days. Was it related to the snow – I drove the roads yesterday all over Arlington. They were fine.

    And as for the comment of someone who had no knowledge of the situation of the bus, sitting in an office “Some of the roads are impassable” — I mean, that was just wrong. The roads were in good condition. Arlington is an urban county. That means high density of traffic which generally beats the snow off the roads. The roads were very well treated.

    So whatever it was that is the explanation for this one exception, this one exception should not define the rule. APS snow policy has gotten a lot better. We got to school just fine this morning. We got to school and all over arlington just fine last night.

    • Lou

      Actually, some of the roads were impassible yesterday. You should read this site called “arlnow.com”. They had an article about some roads the police had to block, and about an ice covered road that caused a truck and a school bus to wreck.

      • mehoo

        How would early release change that though?

        All early release does is force some parents to scramble to get home earlier to get their kids, usually by driving on those same roads. Isn’t it better to wait until plows clear things out, etc?

        It’s one thing if 2 feet of snow is expected, but it was an inch and it stopped snowing before school ended.

        • Jen

          “Isn’t it better to wait until plows clear things out, etc?” Sure! And if we waited until the plows got to my street, the buses would have been dropping kids off at 4 this morning! (On the other hand, my street actually got plowed, which never happened last winter, so I’m not complaining too loudly.)

          The main problem is that buses broke down (which happens). Buses were in ACCIDENTS that were directly caused by snow. As a community, we’re really lucky that there weren’t any injuries.

          I understand why Arlington made the call it did but in light of yesterday’s accidents and how close we came to tragedy, I have a feeling that for the rest of the winter, they’ll be much more likely to cancel school.

          • Lou

            That’s what the “oh it was just 2 inches” folk are ignoring. There were accidents, so something did not go right. Maybe the bus drivers are not trained right. Maybe the equipment is not maintained in the right way. The County does not need to be inviting lawsuits.

            Now, that does not have much to do with the timing of the call yesterday, except to illustrate that they should not be putting buses out on roads that they can not negotiate. For safety and liability considerations.

          • mehoo

            How would releasing early help that though? If anything, it’s better to let the plows do their thing and the snow stop.

          • BoredHouseWife

            Snowplows plow residential streets?

        • jan

          I agree. The early release of children and workers serve only to impede clearing the roads.

    • Student

      Of course the accident was snow related. I was on one of the buses. We took a different route because of the roads were “impassible” and the buses swerved all over the roads because it was so slippery. The buses did not break down, they functioned fine. After they called the police to report the incident, they got the okay to finish driving everyone back home. You know very little facts for someone with all the answers.

    • Steve

      bArlington, Arlington was an urban county the day Flight 90 hit the 14th street bridge and the roads were IMPASSABLE that day despite advanced warning of snow etc….so don’t make out as how that roads in all of the county are ok mearly because theres traffic on them. I was on one of the ambulances trying to get to the scene that day. The roads were a mess and the schools didnt close early that day either. My problem is that the go/no go decision is made by an admistrator living in a nice community were the roads are plowed regularly, and hes likely driving a $40,000 SUV with 4 wheel drive…not somebody’s 12 year old chevy with rear wheel drive…or even a new bus…that still has rear wheel drive. SO Im advancing the idea that the school admin really hasnt a clue what the roads are really like at 5am.

  • Skeptical

    If I were a school administrator looking out at the roads yesterday — especially the completely uncleared road in the neighborhood of Wakefield and Peyton Randolph, which I passed — damn straight I would have kept the kids safe indoors until the County had gotten some crews out there to deal with it. I’m still puzzled that I saw so few signs of snow management, after all the jawing from Courthouse Plaza this week.

    It wasn’t a big fricken’ snow storm, but it did come down fast, and far earlier than predicted; sending kids out into it as soon as that became apparent would have been backwards reasoning. It was taking your life in your hands to go out on the roads at noon — with a few more sand trucks and more extensive pretreatment (it was easy to see where some roads had been treated and others not) school dismissal time would have been no big deal, and I think it was still safer to wait.

  • Andy

    If I were a school administrator, I’d have told everybody to just man the heck up.

  • Bob

    The roads were worse at 1 than at 3. I think the county made the right call.

    • Rick


      • TotalDefense

        Right. See what I did there? Just what you did but the opposite. Utterly meaningless. Yay!

  • NorthAdams

    APS cannot win. THis year, last year, next year, last decade, next decade. They can only make the best decision possible.
    Once out, it amazes me how mobile everyone really is — kids going here and there, parents driving kids to sledding hills….
    I’d vote for MAN UP.

    • James

      you took the words right out of my mouth. Enough second-guessing…when it comes to closing schools or keeping them open, there is no “right” decision. Particularly when the snow totals for the day are less than 3″.

  • Monique

    Arlington did the right thing.

    • NPGMBR

      +1 Not worth closing for two inches of accumelate that ended long before the day was over.

  • mehoo

    Things are going to get screwed up whether they let them out early or not. Get over it. My kids hung out and read books and stuff while they waited. No big deal. Kids don’t care. The adults are the whiners.

    • Arl-Lady

      Agreed. Kudos for the community centers staying open though. It allowed my kid to hang out there safe until I could get out of work, which still ended up being an hour after my regular end of the day. Did she complain? No.

  • Pettifogger

    I was on the road all afternoon, and I have to say, the roads were much worse at 1:30 than they were at 3:30. Sometimes letting out early means letting kids out right at the height of the poor road conditions, because plows and salt haven’t had time to come through.

    Another reason Loudoun & Prince William often let out early or open late is that they have a number of students who live far from schools and on rural roads. That is not the case in Arlington.

  • Observer

    APS was absolutely correct. Just because there is some snow on the roads and some areas are slippery or icy does not mean things need to shut down.

  • Notahoo

    Please – it was 2 inches of snow not two feet. Move on – nothing to see here.

  • Arlington

    APS made the right call. Arlington County made the WRONG call when they decided not to keep the bus routes passable. A school bus with special-needs kids was stuck on my street for two hours yesterday afternoon, waiting for the salt/sand truck to come and clear the road. It can’t be that difficult to sync up bus routes with salt/sand trucks, right?

  • Rick

    I went out at 1130a and again at 230p. Traffic was horible at 230 with people going home, and big streets like N. Glebe and N. Quincy had not been treated. Jamestown elementary, near my home, had no trucks in sight on any of the streets connecting to it. I did see a county dump truck full of salt and sand but not spreading it on N. Quincy, that was nice. If they kept it open to let plows get more before buses hit the streets, they actually have to plow.

  • Lacey Forest

    I think APS made the right call. Letting out early causes parents to have to leave work early, which then jams up the roads making it more difficult for road crews to plow, sand and salt. I stayed at work until 5:30 and this morning I find that my commute home was much easier than those who left at 2pm or 3pm. Keep the buses off the road until the road crews have had time to do their jobs.

  • John

    APS did the right thing.
    I’ve long thought that schools should be open no matter the weather. Parents have to get to their work so why shouldn’t teachers have to get to their’s? Schools should be open, no early release either.
    Now here’s the thing: parents should take responsibility for their families.
    If they believe the roads are not safe to travel then keep your kids home that day, or if you think the roads are getting worse during the day pick your kids up early. The schools should, rather than close or close early, count foul weather as an ‘excused absence’ and not penalize those kids who cannot make it in on those days or who have to leave early.
    Put the responsibility on the parents to make not the schools.

    • Maria

      I don’t necessarily disagree with the main idea of what you’re saying (parents needs to be responsible for their children), but FYI, schools are *not* closed because the counties are worried about teachers getting to work. On most two hour delay days, and even on some snow days, offices are open on time, so concern for the adults is not driving these decisions. The concern is the safety of the thousands and thousands of children in the school systems, particularly those who ride the buses (road conditions) and those who walk (sidewalk conditions).

      • John

        Maria, I should have included students in the phrase ‘teachers have to get to their’s’.
        My daughter’s Ballston area daycare/preschool closed early yesterday [1pm] and we’re still scratching our head’s wondering why. We ended up driving to Target to get some shopping done. So I applaud APS for staying open.
        As for the safety issue for students I just don’t buy it. On snow days rather than being in school warm and learning the kids, now and when I was a kid, are sledding or otherwise playing outside [which I applaud as well] using those same sidewalks that are supposedly unsafe to get them to school.
        As for the buses, if any are on routes that have particularly steep hills, etc. they can either have chains on the wheels [buses I believe are permitted to use chains] or alter their routes to avoid the known bad roads. The parents can drive them to school, drive them to the next designated stop or keep them home. This places the responsibility on the parents.

        • Maria

          Again, I agree with your point in theory, but remember that the school systems bear responsibility for students who are traveling to school. If something happens to a child walking on a dangerous sidewalk on his way to a sledding hill, the school has nothing to do with it. If something happens to a child walking on a dangerous sidewalk on his way to school or a bus stop, many parents will find a way to sue the school system.

          I’m speaking as a teacher who is not allowed to break up a fight in the hallway because of the possibility the kids’ parents will sue the school because I touched their children. It’s not a pretty world, but it’s the one we live in.

        • Maria

          Oh, and while I said earlier that the concern is not for the *safety* of the adults, which is true, the reality is that most teachers drive to their schools, and if they are unable to get to school on a day with a good deal of snow (many live far from their schools, on side roads, no chains on tires, etc.), then you’re stuck with several classrooms of kids with no teachers.

          • John

            It’s an employees responsibility to be at work, whether you’re a teacher, a mechanic or an office worker. Are teachers more fragile than others in the workforce? Now I’m talking normal snow amounts not a true deal-changing snowdrop.

            Many companies have a contingency plan in place to help their employees get to work in foul weather. Such as either creating preassigned carpools with employees with 4-wheel drive vehicles driving or putting employees up in nearby hotels or bunking them onsite. Businesses also have pert-timers and temps they can call on to help. I believe school districts have substitute teachers who would love to pick up some work days.

            As far as threats or more importantly the fear of a threat of a lawsuit. That is merely a lazy excuse for decisionmakers to make the easiest most convenient decision. As long as you allow ‘excused absence’ for foul weather the liability lies with the parents. Personal responsibility.

            As far as a slip and slide on the sidewalk is concerned the person responsible, if anyone would be legally responsible, would be the property owner or the person falling not the APS. In fact I would love to know the number of lawsuits successfully and unsuccessfully filed for such things. I’m willing to bet it’s extremely extremely low compared to the fear of the actual action.

          • Maria

            I’m sorry if this seems rude – I don’t mean it to be, but I’m not sure how else to say it – but you seem to be living in a bit of a fantasy world. It’s a great world, but it’s not reality. First of all, yes, it is of course a teacher’s responsibility to get to work as with all other workers, but in bad weather, many people call out of work in many professions. In fact, in bad weather, many companies actually close. And depending on substitutes is not a good solution for this particular situation. How much can they really do when called upon last minute, assuming they can even travel to the schools?

            You’re also suggesting that schools stay open when the most likely outcome is that a vast majority of students wouldn’t even be there due to the “excused absence” provision. What good is that to a teacher? I’d have to teach the same thing again anyway when all the kids come back. The truth is, it would be a waste of time and money, and it would put everyone in the school who tries to get there in danger, and for what result?

            In addition, you may think that the threat of lawsuits is a “lazy excuse” and that they don’t happen, but school systems get sued a lot more than you might think (maybe not often for this specific reason, but in general), so it is a legitimate concern. I’m not saying they happen every day, but fighting even one lawsuit, frivolous though it may be, costs money, and school systems need to avoid them as much as possible. This is especially true when schools are already having to cut programs, staff, and salaries to keep the budgets afloat. I mean, I think it’s pretty stupid that companies have to put “Caution: this beverage is hot” on a coffee cup, but they do because of a successful lawsuit. So yeah, this isn’t some made up excuse the superintendents pulled out of thin air just so they can give us snow days.

            Lastly, for goodness sake, we’re literally dealing with the lives of children here. The world (and transporting them to school) holds enough danger on a day-to-day basis… why would someone want to put them in more danger unnecessarily?

            I have a suspicion that we’re going to have to just agree to disagree on this one, which I can live with. The same way I don’t fancy myself an expert on how hospitals or law firms should be run, I just don’t honestly think that school systems can be fully understood from the outside looking in, so I’m just trying to give you some insight into what it’s like to *actually* work in one (I’m assuming you don’t).

          • John

            It looks like you’re talking a major snowstorm when everything else gets closed down. That’s not what I’m talking about and I’ve clearly said so in my posts. I’m talking normal snowfall not a major dump.
            and no I’m not living in a fantasy world, Maria. But I guess my growing up in the snow belt taught me that living and going about your business is a very real reality rather than hibernating and closing up shop whenever a few inches of snow falls. Again, I applaud APS for staying open.

          • Maria

            What you said in your initial post was that “I’ve long thought that schools should be open no matter the weather.” That’s what I was responding to. If that’s not what you meant, then fine… guess I misunderstood. In your third post, you did change what you said to refer to a “normal” snowfall, but again, my responses were to your original statement.

            Also, I’m from New York (where we have plenty of snow and plenty of snow days and delays), so I’m with those like you who feel that people are often too reactionary down here. But the “fantasy world” I was talking about was less about the reaction to snowfall and more about many of the other things you said (lawsuits, how to deal with teachers not being able to get to work, etc.).

            I won’t be checking this anymore, so… good talk.

  • G

    So much for the snow removal ordinance. On my run to work this morning I would say less than 5% of the sidewalks were shoveled… That may even be a generous assessment. Already a lot of it was packed down tight, so it will be much more difficult to remove. All the kids walking to school had to walk on ice and snow, and the bikers who couldn’t fit onto the road were slowly peddling through the snow on the sidewalks. I feel like much of Arlington residents are extremely lazy when it comes to shoveling snow. Even at my condo I’m the only one who shovels out my parking spot. Everyone else just lets it sit there.

    • mehoo

      Yep, only about 10% of my neighborhood sidewalks were clear this morning.

    • Grilled Cheese Sandwich

      So it was you who shoveled a pile of snow behind my car this morning! Bas**rd!

      • Notahoo

        i must have better than average Arlintonians living by me – we *all* had our sidewalks shoveled….even the group / party house a couple doors down had the sidewalk shoveled.

        • mehoo

          North or South Arlington? That’s the crucial question.

          • me

            Must be south Arl…right?

    • John

      For the record I shoveled my walk, i enjoy shoveling the minimal amounts of snow we get here in NoVa, even last year’s amounts. But, and I know this from great experience, less than 2″ of snow doesn’t really need to be shoveled. In fact if you’re pretty certain that ice is going to form up over night etc sometimes it’s best to leave the snow down so it acts as traction between your feet and the [black] ice below it.

      • Broom Hilda

        I just got out a broom and swept it away to a dry walk. The stuff was so light it was like dust.

    • John

      Also, since the ordinance says owners have 24 hours from when the snow stops coming down there were no violations to the ordinance this morning.

  • CJR

    What was a school bus doing at the intersection of Kirkwood and 14th St. N? I know Arlington Science Focus is right there – but there are options to avoid that intersection – that is an extremely steep hill and very dangerous when icy.

    • .

      It was McKinnley Bus route 610, and the email from the school to parents said it was at 14th St. and Nicholas St.

      • KathleenM

        Actually, it was a W-L bus that was hit by another bus (all the kids on the bus whipped out their cell phones and took a picture of the accident) near 14th and Kirkwood. And my son, who was on the bus, said the kids wondered the same thing as it was happening – is going down such a steep, slippery hill a good idea right now? (Of course, he is 17, just got his license, so he thinks that gives him the right to judge everyone’s driving – ha!) No injuries, as the bus drivers were moving at appropriate speeds for the weather, and despite the few accidents, Arlington made the right call not to close earlier in the day.

        • .

          In that case there were at least two bus accidents yesterday.

  • Trial Attorney

    Speaking of the Arlington Snow Ordinance: I spoke with a friend of mine who is a trial attorney about the snow ordinance. He said the trial attorneys were supporting this ordinance. If there is a slip and fall on a person’s sidewalk due to the icy conditions, and it’s 24 hours and 5 minutes after the snowfall – guess who gets sued? And since you didn’t comply with the county ordinance – you have no defense (since you will be ticketed when the police come to investigate the slip and fall). I can’t wait until the next major snowfall so I can wear my slippers and walk past some of those McMansions in Arlington and have an accident! I’ll sue for just enough so that the homeowner’s insurance would rather settle than litigate – I think $7,500 a pop sounds good. I’ve got my eye on the Z man’s sidewalk!

    • McDonald’s Hot Coffee Spilled On Me

      Great idea! I’ll be there at 24 hours and 6 minutes.

    • mehoo

      “a friend of mine who is a trial attorney”

      See, that’s your problem right there.

  • Josh

    APS did the right thing…

  • Arlington, Northside

    Seeing how bad it was falling at the time that the kids would have been dismissed, I would say they made the right call.

  • Greg

    By the time the kids would have been let out, the worst of the snow had already fallen. I’m not sure what difference a 2 hour early dismissal would have made.

  • Ctbeachbm

    There’s always a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks
    On this issue. Murphy made the right call. A two hour delay might gave created more turmoil with many students arriving home to no parental supervision,

  • Arl. Parent

    Absolutely! Murphy made the right call. Other than a few steep hills, all the roads were easily passable while I was out driving between 2:00 and 5:00. Unfortunately the bus driver on 14th and Kirkwood chose to navigate down the hill as oppose to taking an alternate more leveled route. As for the complaining mom, cry me a river. Your kid was safe, with his/her friends and under proper adult supervision.

    • Student

      Wow you are dumb. I was in the incident and the bus did not go the normal route, they were told to go down this very steep hill very slowly. Our normal route consists of inside streets that were most likely unplowed. The bus behind us went just as slow and still swerved off the road and the end of that bus hit into ours, which lessened the impact. It could have been very bad if that bus impacted ours head on. Don’t blame the bus drivers; they work hard to get kids to and from school safely, daily. And for those who claim that a two hour delay wouldn’t have made a difference, it makes the biggest difference. The snow was still fresh and would not have frozen over and become as slippery. Don’t only think about the inconvenience of having to pick your child up or worry about them not having adult supervision. By now, they should be able to know how to act in an emergency situations in case worse things happen.

  • Student

    I was also in the accident at Kirkwood and 14th street. In the past, Arlington has made some bad choices on whether to cancel school or not, but being in that accident was a bit frightening. Explained before, our bus was going on a side route because the traffic to get out of the school is extremely busy. We were probably going less than 5 miles per hour down the hill, and the bus behind us was too. It’s wheel slipped on a patch of ice and hit us. Thank god the bus driver behind us was smart and turned or else the bus would of had crashed directly into us instead of on its side and would of been fatal. The bus that slipped almost crashed into a fence and would gone through someone’s property. Another problem was not everybody was in a seat because there aren’t enough seats for everyone on our bus route to sit. You people saying “cry me a river” or “These pansy kids are spoiled” you weren’t in the accident. I don’t care if you walked to school 5 miles when you were a kid. That doesn’t mean that we would of been safe if the bus crashed. I believe Arlington Public School’s students should have an APPROPRIATE opinion on this matter. So why don’t you be a mature adult and not call us pansies. You are obviously not looking at this problem in the right way.

  • Kate

    The “walking five miles, uphill, both ways” is an old joke, Student 1 and 2. It’s not directed at you.

    Sorry you were in a bus accident. However, I think you missed English class. Your writing is not very good.

    “It’s wheel” should be “Its wheel”
    “Would of” should be “would have”

    For starters.

    • Student

      Wow. Very mature of you to point out petty mistakes like that. That student’s writing was written quite well, except for the few typos that you only mentioned because you had no real argument. And if we are going to talk about English class, your, “For starters” comment would be an incomplete sentence since it doesn’t even have an independent clause.

  • Student

    Agreed with the other student’s comments. I would’ve liked to walk home when the snow was still powdery instead of icy. I’m not a pansy and I don’t need to man up.
    A lot of my friends were on the bus at Kirkwood, and they all said that there could’ve been a lot of injuries if the bus behind hadn’t swerved at the right moment. Especially since a bunch of people were just standing in the center of the aisle when it happened. Apparently there were at least two more accidents. I don’t know how the snowplows were getting around and how an early release would’ve affected them, but I still believe it would have been the better call. None of the snow had frozen over yet. And it took the snowplows forever to get all of Arlington anyways. My street was covered in ice until yesterday afternoon, and a lot of my friends have said the same thing.

  • Shari Bennett

    I would have assured the mother that the school system does everything it can to ensure children’s safety, and that the school system is self-insured. I also would have assured her that at the end of their Arlington experience, most Arlington students can distinguish those three words.


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