I could sense it all afternoon. The chatter on the radio and television stations was strong from our local officials and civil leaders: We are in control; it wasn’t as bad as we thought; we were prepared; we are returning to normal.
And “returning to normal” included school systems returning to a regular schedule on Wednesday. Sure, we’ve got a handful of schools still without power, but no problem. We got this. We’re in control.
Forget the state of emergency and forget the curfews and the restrictions just lifted hours ago.
We were prepared. We got this. No panic here, and we can prove it to you by opening up the schools.
The only problem with this decision is that power being restored to most of the schools in our counties should not have been the sole factor in determining the return to “normalcy” for thousands of our children. I know there were intense meetings. I know there was much deliberation about making this decision. What I’m wondering, though, is this: Did you consider these three things?
High schoolers will be returning to school in the dark
I just came back from running a few errands (around 9 p.m.), and I was astounded by the amount of debris that was still on the roads — the same roads that I had traveled not 4 hours ago. The streets are wet, and it is nearly impossible to see the jagged branches and tree limbs protruding from the curbs. They cover the sidewalks and make it nearly impossible for school walkers to get around them without having to walk in the streets. What if wires have come down overnight and are now lying in the wet roads, still hot? BGE’s Robert Gould has stated repeatedly that the threat of falling trees and power lines is still very real, and if any of these fall in the middle of the night, chances are slim that they will be reported to BGE and cleared before children have to walk to school.
Many traffic lights are still out
Few people are following the new law just enacted on October 1, where you are required to treat dark intersections (where the traffic lights are not working) like a four-way stop. Those who are obeying the law are being cursed at by the drivers behind them, and those who are blowing through intersections are endangering the lives of others who are trying to follow the law. In the day time, it is bad enough; at least we are able to have a better field of vision of who is and is not following the law to treat the intersection like a four-way stop. In the dark (which it will be for the high schoolers), they will be heading to school in very challenging and dangerous situations.
Many major roads are still blocked
The list of roads still blocked by downed wires and trees is too long to post here. Student drivers as well as bus drivers will have to take many detours to get to school on time. These are, for many, unfamiliar routes that will cause other safety issues.
There are other issues, too. Many families are faced with situations where one child has school, but another doesn’t. Many of these families are without power (especially those who live so close to the schools that are on the no-power list); they already have multiple issues with having no electricity. Now, they face new challenges in trying to accommodate one child’s needs to get to school on time.
And what about the magnet school families? If the school system is going to offer such dynamic programs as magnet schools (which we are a part of and support), then they need to take into consideration that families will be traveling from different parts of the county just to get their children to school on time.
The decision to return to schools less than 24 hours after a devastating hurricane pushed through our area is both irresponsible and insensitive. The Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is still posting strong cautions on their website tonight about driving and residential conditions (see below for the complete list of warnings posted as of 10:39 p.m.). It is one thing to pound our chests and show the world how quickly we got Baltimore back on its feet; it is another thing entirely to put the lives of our children on line to prove how resilient we might be.
When this whole mess is over, I’d much rather be remembered for putting just as much thought and effort into keeping our citizens safe after the storm as we did in the five days that led up to its historic landfall.