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Baltimore County Schools, Parks Coordinating Weather-Related Closures

A rule was adjusted in December 2011, following a complaint from a Perry Hall football coach about field closures following Hurricane Irene.

UPDATE (11:15 a.m.)—If inclement weather closes to recreation organizations, Baltimore County Public Schools will coordinate with the county to close park fields as well, according to Superintendent Joe Hairston.

"Therefore, there is consistency, between the school system and the Department of Recreation and Parks," Hairston stated in a letter to the County Council, dated March 30. 

The letter was in response to a from , on behalf of the County Council, for the adjustment of Rule 6303, which allows for the automatic closure of school fields whenever schools are closed countywide due to inclement weather.

The County Council sent a on March 20 for more flexibility to the rule, and to allow for exceptions to fields deemed safe for use. Hairston stated, however, that a better solution was to make the rule more consistent, based on adjustments to the rule made in December 2011.

A county schools representative was not immediately available for comment on Monday morning.

Marks first contacted the school system about adjusting the rule shorty after Hurricane Irene in August 2011. He sent another request in March after not hearing of any developments. Marks was informed about the rule adjustment when the County Council received the letter from Hairston on April 4, he stated.

, a Perry Hall football coach, had complained to Marks that fields outside were closed to sports teams simply because schools had been closed countywide in the hurricane's aftermath. The Perry Hall fields were intact and teams were allowed to play on Department of Recreation and Parks fields, Lutostanski said.

Lutostanski submitted an to Patch about the field closure in August.

In response to Lutostanski's concerns, Hairston emphasized the "unique circumstances" surrounding Hurricane Irene, stating that school fields were closed to all recreational activities to be consistent.

Since December 2011, the schools rule has been adjusted to also extend to parks fields when inclement weather closes schools countywide, according to the letter.

Lutostanski said he was disappointed with the response from county schools, noting that because schools are closed countywide, the existing rule and its adjustment would result in even more needless field closures.

"It doesn't make sense to not use a field when there's nothing wrong with it," he said. "Just because there's something wrong with a field in Randallstown, doesn't mean there's something wrong in Perry Hall."

"I guess it's easier for them to have a systematic approach, but it seems like an easy way out ... I don't think this is the answer anyone was looking for," Lutostanski said.

Marks stated he appreciated the promise of more consistency, but would advocate for further adjustments to the rule if called for by recreation councils.

"I'm happy they responded to my initial inquiry after Hurricane Irene and are now coordinating the use of athletic fields with the Department of Recreation and Parks. I'll take a wait-and-see approach and advocate for the recreation councils if they think we need to further improve the policy," he wrote in an email to Patch.

The full text of the letter is available below and also in the media gallery.

March 30, 2012

County Council of Baltimore County
Court House
Towson, MD 21204

Dear Members of the County Council:

I am in receipt of your letter requesting that Superintendent’s Rule 6303, Emergency Closures, Delays and Cancellations, be reviewed and modified to address the cancellation of the use of school fields when the school system is closed, when all schools are dismissed early, or when individual schools are closed or dismissed early due to inclement weather. The superintendent's rule was just recently reviewed and revised in December 2011.

Per my direction, staff reviewed the rule based on your request, along with the inclement weather policies posted on the Web site for the Department of Parks and Recreation. Based on their review, the following is in response to your request.

  • When schools are closed due to inclement weather, which cancels all planned use of facilities and grounds as well, the Department of Recreation and Parks also cancels all recreation programs at school-recreation centers as well as recreation and parks sites. Therefore, there is consistency, between the school system and the Department of Recreation and Parks.
  • The prevailing reason for any school closures, delays, or cancellations is staff safety. Based on thorough assessments of roads and school grounds by our Office of Transportation and Department of Physical Facilities, respectively, a recommendation is made to me regarding whether or not schools should be closed or the schedule adjusted. When a decision is reached to close or cancel schools, that decision is based on the systemwide assessment that it is unsafe to use the buildings and grounds. 
  • The school building must be operational for the school grounds to be used. lf the building is without power or water, as an example, there is no access to any of the restroom facilities. Conversely, if the building is operational but the grounds are compromised due to weather, activities would need to be cancelled to protect the integrity of the fields.

More specifically, to address the unique circumstances that occurred as a result of Hurricane Irene, the staggered opening of schools due to power outages certainly challenged our county and school system resources. During this time, the staff in the BCPS’ Department of Facilities kept staff from the Department of Recreation and Parks apprised of the status of the school buildings and grounds. Based on this collaboration, it was determined by the Department of
Recreation and Parks that until all schools were opened, all recreation council events would be cancelled for equity purposes among the recreation councils.

Let me assure you that my staff works collaboratively with the Department of Recreation and Parks to ensure access to our school facilities and grounds Whenever possible. During weather-related events, such as the 2011 hurricane, having a consistent systemwide approach to the use of our facilities and grounds is paramount as we work to resume normal business operations. Superintendent’s Rule 6303, Emergency Closures, Delays, and Cancellations, has worked extremely well in providing well­ established and consistent direction to all school-based administrators and the community. It is imperative that as a school system, not a system of schools, we need to focus on the safety of students, staff, and the public as we use our resources efficiently during challenging events that affect the use of our school facilities and grounds.

Sincerely,

Joe A. Hairston

c: Dr. Renee A. Foose, Deputy Superintendent
Michele Prumo, Chief of Staff
Michael G. Sines, Executive Director, Department of Physical Facilities
William P. Wingerd, Administrator, Office of Operations
John Ander, Acting Administrator, Office of Maintenance and Grounds
Robert J. Barrett, Executive Officer, Community Outreach

Do you agree with the adjustment? Tell us in the comments.

Paul Amirault April 09, 2012 at 02:58 PM
"The prevailing reason for any school closures, delays, or cancellations is staff safety. Based on thorough assessments of roads and school grounds by our Office of Transportation and Department of Physical Facilities, respectively, a recommendation is made to me regarding whether or not schools should be closed or the schedule adjusted. When a decision is reached to close or cancel schools, that decision is based on the systemwide assessment that it is unsafe to use the buildings and grounds." It is this exact kind of response that leads to a clamor for an elected school board. What ever happened to good old fashioned common sense? A decision to close the schools made at 5:30 a.m. for the threat of snow that never materialized, okay, I understand that decision. But then to maintain that closure throughout the evening is sheer idiocy. An assessment done at 5:30 in the morning is binding on the rest of the day? Superintendent Hairston, you and your staff can do much better than this. If fields are used outside for baseball, lacrosse, and soccer, we never have access to restrooms in the school anyway. Nonsense. Can't wait for July 1.
fred April 09, 2012 at 03:08 PM
equity reasons is not acceptable. this would mean that all schools and rec councils should have the same quality facilities which we know is not so. give a better reason.,or make all the same.
Bart April 09, 2012 at 03:30 PM
This really needs to be looked at by a more impartial judge. When my kids played outdoor Rec sports, the buildings were rarely open, so whether or not there was power in the buildings was unimportant. There needs to be more flexibility. Perhaps the new Superintendent will take a fresh look at this rule. Hairston is clearly not interested, anymore, in the community.
johnny towson April 09, 2012 at 05:52 PM
Is there anyone that works for the County that can think? The above bureaucratic-Harrison nonsense is illogical and detrimental to the cohesiveness and quality of County life. The rec. councils and community programs want every minute they can get on fields. Unfortunately, they are beholden to the County for cooperation and cannot afford to rock the boat too much or they will be marginalized and preference for access to fields will be given to those whom did not "complain" or make requests (read: create more work for the 310 employees of the 54 offices of the Department of Recs and Parks, operating budget $21 MILLION, Payroll $11 Million) Why close any of the turf fields? This has very little to do about safety and "integrity" of fields and a lot more to do with the fact that Baltimore County has the 4th largest deficit of field space in the State and faces a $141,250,000 capital budget deficit for Recs and Parks in 2012. This department and County is in way too deep to address the communities concerns about recreation space that the best thing they can do is sweep it under the rug and hope no one notices. Unfortunately for them, people are noticing.
John Doby April 09, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Swing and a miss on this one...
William Lutostanski Jr April 09, 2012 at 11:29 PM
system wide unless its just the Herford Zone.....Hmmmm
fred April 09, 2012 at 11:35 PM
probably should close everything if hereford is closed. perfect county thinking
Jennifer Bolster April 10, 2012 at 02:30 AM
This is awful, idiotic, and the antithesis of what Rec Councils desire regarding modifying BCPS rules regarding field usage when schools are closed. Mr. Hairston's draconian "solution" to the request to modify BCPS policy will result in even further restrictions to our youth programming. This new spiteful policy of "Hurricane Hairston" could do a lot more long term damage to Rec Council programing than Irene did last fall. As president of the Towson Recreation Council, I must object strenuously to tying all Rec and Parks fields to the County School System's closures. Hairston is overreaching his authority on this matter. Rec and Parks needs to stand their ground and support the Rec Council volunteers that provide so much for their communities.
Shell9 April 10, 2012 at 03:31 AM
I agree w/ Jennifer Bolster...Also, If Hairston was such a thorn in Baltimore Counties side then why did they keep him around that long? Why are we hearing all this backlash against him now from the board? You should have asked the parents years ago. We could have told you this and saved you all that money...
fred April 10, 2012 at 10:34 AM
balto. co. always keeps dept heads around to long and when they make a bad choice they never correct it. it would be egg on the face of the executive to do so.
William Lutostanski Jr April 11, 2012 at 12:11 AM
Hopefully Dr Dance will have more of a common sense approach.
DougW April 15, 2012 at 10:18 PM
This is just another reason that the day after I retire, my new address will be in Va or NC. Take the simple approach, perfect solution for simpletons! So what happens if a team uses a closed school field for practice, do they risk arrest?

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