The recent bone-chilling weather that gripped the Washington region brought attention to the confusing, sometimes contradictory policies regarding the closing of public schools in the District of Columbia and Prince George’s County.
An example of the disparity is the District of Columbia public schools system (DCPS) decision to operate school normally even under the threat of an ice storm on Jan. 8 while to the east of the District, Prince George’s County, decided to close its schools two-hours earlier than normal. The situation was the same on Jan. 5, with Prince George’s County deciding to close its schools because of the freezing temperatures while the District’s schools delayed its decision to close.
“We look at the weather forecasts and we have personnel who go around the county to measure how bad the weather is,” John White, public information officer for the Prince George’s County school system, told the AFRO. “We compare notes with other districts to see what they are doing. Then a recommendation is made to Dr. Maxwell on what should be done and he makes the final decision.”
White said that Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III doesn’t get involved in the process.
“It is Dr. Maxwell and his staff that make the day-to-day decisions running the school district,” he said.
Prince George’s County Board of Education member Edward Burroughs III told the AFRO the decisions are based on student safety, as well.
“In the county we have a lot of students who have to walk to school,” Burroughs said. “Many students don’t have consistent school bus service and we have had situations where youngsters are waiting for the bus at 6:30 a.m. when it is dark and freezing cold.”
For many students in Prince George’s County, the schools system’s meal program is the main source of nourishment during the day. White said meals aren’t offered when schools are closed “unless some arrangement has been made with the community.”
Burroughs said the schools should strongly consider setting up a meal site in several areas of the county to meet the needs of students.
“The meals are a major part of the students’ day,” he said. “When there are two-hour delays or partial closings, the meals are served.”
Burroughs said the board plays no role in the school-closing process but can advise informally.
In the District, the school closure policy is more forthright. According to the District’s school system website, the school closure policy section starts off with “we strive to keep DCPS schools open whenever possible.
“We are reluctant to close school as it is our priority to ensure that our students have access to all they need, including academic instruction, nutritious meals and healthy extracurricular programming,” the statement said. “When there is inclement weather, we work closely with the D.C. government and other agencies to obtain the best and most current information.”
The statement said that all DCPS schools no matter what level must abide by the school closure decision.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson told the AFRO that he works within the context of the school closure statement, which has the force of law.
“My priority is for kids to be in school and learning every day,” Wilson said. “When the weather is bad, we start by looking at a number of factors, related to temperature, precipitation, transportation and whether young people have safe ways to get to and from school. We meet with city officials to coordinate a plan that’s best for the city’s students to ensure both safety and learning.”
Unlike Prince George’s County, Wilson doesn’t make the final closure decision.
“I make a recommendation to Mayor Bowser and it is she that makes the call,” Wilson said.
In the District, the D.C. State Board of Education has no role in school closure process.
Many charter and private schools in the District, particularly those affiliated with the Catholic Church, follow the District’s decision, but there are exceptions. On Jan. 9, the District’s public school system opened up on time but Archbishop Carroll High School in Northeast D.C.and the St. Albans School in Northwest D.C. had two-hour delays due to weather.
In Prince George’s County, the private schools follow the school system with an example DeMatha Catholic High School had a two-hour delay, along with the public schools on Jan. 9.
Both school systems advise for parents to follow their websites, Twitter accounts and news reports during the hour of 4-5 a.m. to hear the latest on school closures.