Montgomery County Schools open on time, then close early because of cold

Daly Elementary was one of the four schools forced to close early. Photo: Suzanne Kennedy

SILVER SPRING, Md. (WJLA) - Four schools in Montgomery County were forced to close early Tuesday due to the frigid temperatures, school officials say, sparking a debate over whether students should have been in class at all.

Montgomery County Schools spokesman Dana Tofig said in a tweet that Daly Elementary School, Jackson Road Elementary School, White Oak Middle School and Magruder High School all had to close early due to weather-related issues.

The early release came after Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent Joshua Starr kept his students in class Tuesday and was roundly criticized on Twitter. It all came hours after students arrived at the county's 202 schools in single-digit temperatures.

Starr, who uses the handle @mcpssuper on the microblogging site, became a target for frozen students and frustrated parents Tuesday, drawing criticism for his decision to keep students in school.

"We want our kids in school," Tofig said. "We've had three snow days this year. We have one more built into the schedule. After that, we may have to extend the school year."

That ire seemed to grow upon news that two schools began the day with no power and a third had frozen pipes break, causing flooding. A handful of buses also had trouble operating in the cold.

Limited power and no heat greeted students Tuesday morning at Daly Elementary in Germantown, where a Pepco power outage left the school with classrooms that were only 30 degrees.

In an attempt to stay warm, students were ushered into the school's media center and alternate classrooms while wearing jackets and earmuffs. The school's principal, NOra Dietz, says no students were any in danger.

"We're really monitoring closely the condition and working closely with our central office, and they've been supportive as well," Dietz said.

Parents, for the most part, were split when it came to the decision, with some insisting that it was OK for kids to be at school, while others insisted it was simply too cold.

"As long as the schools themselves are heated and they're getting to school safely, then they can still be learning and not missing another day of school," parent Tammy Glatz-Landy said.

Tuesday's Twitter activity directed towards Starr comes on the heels of a controversy that began last month when Montgomery County canceled school Dec. 9 as a result of weather. Starr was the target of countless Twitter messages, some of which contained threats or vulgarity. Later that week, Starr penned an open letter on the school system's website, calling for more "cybercivility."

@pstauffer @mcpssuper @MCPS I can see my breath on the bus. I'm currently on the bus. What is your definition of warm? Join me, then talk.

— Sneha Saggurthi (@CheckTheFinesse) January 7, 2014

@mcpssuper @MCPS You made the right call today. Schools and buses are warm. Let's not stop learning for small reasons.

— pstauffer (@pstauffer) January 7, 2014