WASHINGTON – By Thursday morning, Art Refosco will either be a hero or a headache to Garrett County parents.
Like school officials across the state, Refosco, the director of transportation for Garrett County schools, will be walking a tightrope Thursday when he makes the call whether to close schools because of the threat of snow.
“It’s a lot of responsibility, but you get used to it,” said Refosco, who has been at his job for seven years. “You’re a loner.”
Refosco planned to work late Wednesday and be back up in the wee hours of the morning Thursday.
While most districts have teams of workers checking the roads and making decisions, Refosco is a one-man band. He wakes up at 3:30 a.m., is out on the roads by 4 a.m. and makes his call to the district superintendent by 5:30 a.m.
Baltimore City schools spokeswoman Vanessa Pyatt did not expect to get any sleep Wednesday night. Instead, she said, she would be tossing and turning in bed, waiting to hear whether the district chief executive officer had decided to cancel school.
Sometimes Pyatt does not find out about cancellations or delays until just before 5 a.m., leaving her five minutes to finish what she refers to as a “call down” — contacting police, the telephone exchange and the media in time for the announcement to hit the morning news.
“The adrenaline is flowing. When you see that first snowflake, every thought of sleep escapes you,” she said.
Pyatt expected her two children and other Baltimore students would be “pleasantly surprised” Thursday morning. She said the decision to close schools hinges on whether public transportation, which most students depend on, is running and whether staff members in outlying counties can make it into work.
“It has nothing to do with inches. It has everything to do with whether or not children can arrive safely to schools,” she said.
Refosco agrees. One day last year, 11 inches of snow fell in Garrett County, and students went to school. Refosco expected 7 inches would fall Wednesday night, and that children would be in school Thursday.
The only conditions serious enough to cancel school without a second thought, said Refosco, are whiteouts, ice storms or temperatures more than 20 below zero.
“We’re pretty hardy up here,” Refosco said. “It’s just a way of life.”
It’s not a way of life that everyone is used to, though.
Refosco said he has to deal with as many as 25 calls from irate parents on snowy days when school has not been canceled. He suspects most of them are newcomers to the area.
“Parents get very bitter,” Refosco said. “They’re very discourteous and they let you know their feelings.”
But Refosco said his job is worth it.
“It’s so quiet,” he said of driving along the county’s winding mountain roads before dawn. “Seeing the animals and the snow on the evergreens . . . it’s a blessing when you’re the first tracks on the road.”