UPDATE (1:25 p.m.)—Shortly after Hurricane Irene in August 2011, a Perry Hall football coach wasn't allowed to hold practice on the fields of Perry Hall Elementary School. The fields were free of debris, but because schools had been closed countywide, fields were closed to recreation groups, as well.
"The frustrating part was that kids were still practicing on the [Department of Recreation and Parks'] fields—it was only the schools' fields that were closed," said Bill Lutostanski, who coaches 9 and under football. "I thought it was absurd."
County officials are now asking county school officials to adjust Rule 6303, which states that "All planned use of facilities and grounds by non-BCPS organizations are cancelled," during a weather-related emergency closure or early dismissal.
A letter urging Superintendent Joe Hairston to allow fields to remain open, unless there is a public safety risk, was mailed on March 20. Marks drafted the letter and gained signatures from all six of his colleagues.
The letter encouraged more flexibility, mentioning a controversial facilities use rule that essentially banned third-party use of school system property—including PTSA-sponsored craft fairs and town fairs. After a long struggle with county officials and lobbying from community members, the school board adjusted that rule in August of last year.
"Last year, the Board of Education modified its facilities policy to accommodate community activities, and we applaud the Board’s flexibility. We ask that the policy regarding recreational activities be modified to allow for use of the fields unless a determination is made that there are public safety risks," the letter stated.
The full letter is available in the media gallery.
Charles Herndon, a schools spokesperson, said Hairston had not yet received and reviewed the letter, but would "take the issue under advisement."
Herndon added that nearly all unplanned school closures and early dismissals involve unsafe weather conditions.
"Typically, we're talking about snow or ice or torrential rains that would preclude schools from staying open," he said. "Generally, you want people to stay home and out of the inclement weather."
If the school board were to approve the adjustment, field quality and safety would likely need to be evaluated on an "individual basis," Herndon said.
He declined to comment on whether or not field evaluations would present an added cost to county schools.
Jerry Soukup, longtime president of the Perry Hall Recreation Council, said he supports the rule adjustment because it would lead to more equal treatment of teams that practice on county schools fields and teams that practice on county park fields.
"As long as the fields are in good shape, there's no reason why we shouldn't use them," Soukup said.
Lutostanski said he hoped change would come quickly.
"It seems like a simple adjustment to make," he said. "Something needs to be done before it affects the children again."
Do you agree or disagree with a more flexible rule regarding the closure of school fields? Tell us in the comments.