LETTER: St. Mary's Public Schools Superintendent on School Reopenings

A Message from Dr. Michael J. Martirano, Superintendent of Schools

To date, schools have been closed 10 days for weather related issues. It has been an incredible winter and it is not over yet. All of that said, I want to assure the community that all decisions to close schools for weather related matters are made with the first and foremost thought of keeping our children and staff safe. Much thought and work goes into the deliberations about these kinds of decisions and they are not taken lightly. To that end, our primary goal is to return our educational operations to a level of normalcy.

As schools open again, large piles of snow will remain on the sites of our schools. This may result in limited parking spaces and reduced visibility for drivers of cars and busses. I am asking for patience and extreme caution as individuals drive on school properties and near our bus stops. Please keep an eye out for our students who you may not be able to see because of the height of the large piles of snow. We need to be extra cautious. Additionally, if at all possible, I am asking parents and community members to shovel out bus stops so students are not standing in the streets.

During the last week, our public schools have been inspected, on a regular basis, for any damage that the snow may have caused and this includes each roof. I am pleased to report that all of our buildings have survived with no structural or internal damage. I personally want to thank all of our building service, maintenance and operations staff who worked tirelessly to shovel and remove all of the snow from our parking lots and sidewalks. Specific thanks go out to Bowles Farm, LLC and Larry Hill and Sons Excavating, Inc. who worked with us to remove the heavy snow from our parking lots and sidewalks.

I will be working with the Board of Education to develop a plan for any days that we need to make-up. Each school system in the state of Maryland is waiting on guidance from the State Superintendent of Schools for the first piece of information regarding waivers that is needed to develop this plan. You can trust that I will communicate this information to the community once it is finalized.

I want to thank our parents, students, teachers, staff and principals for their patience and flexibility during this most unusual time. We will get the educational program back on track, this I can promise you.

School Transportation Cautions

Due to significant snow accumulations, melting, and re-freezing patterns:

-- Parking availability at all St. Mary's County Public Schools (SMCPS) facilities may be reduced (accumulating mounds of snow) limiting parking for staff, students and parents

-- Traffic patterns on facility parking lots (egress and regress) are subject to change

-- Travel lanes in school driveways and parking areas may be limited and in some cases provide only one lane of travel

-- Unseen ice in parking areas and sidewalks, due to melting and refreezing snow, will continue to exist

Parents, students, and staff should:

-- If at all possible, parents and community members are asked to shovel snow away from bus stops to prevent students from standing in streets and roadways to catch buses

-- Plan for possible delays in all forms of transportation service to include school bus service

-- It is possible that school buses may not be able to reach all normally scheduled bus stops due to existing road conditions preventing safe travel. Students may be required to meet the bus at an alternative location an extended distance from the normal bus stop location

-- Be aware that many of the normal locations used for bus turnarounds may be unusable and prevent the bus from servicing assigned streets

Parents, students, and staff operating a vehicle should:

-- Ensure that their vehicle has been thoroughly cleaned of all snow and ice (increasing visibility and avoiding falling and spraying snow from their vehicles)

-- Plan and allow for additional travel time

-- Wear seatbelts and ensure use of proper child restraint devices in vehicles

-- Please travel with caution through school drop-off loops and reduce speed in all school and office parking areas to less than 5 mph (increasing control of vehicles and driver reaction time). The height of some snow banks will block the view of drivers, preventing them from seeing all pedestrians

-- When driving, ensure that your focus remains on control of the vehicle - Pay attention at all times

-- Be extremely observant of snow/slush patches and hidden ice on school parking lots and roadway surfaces

-- Allow for and increase the "normal" distance between all vehicle to vehicle traffic and vehicle to pedestrian traffic (increased braking distance should be anticipated due to existing roadway conditions)

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