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If school's closed, you've got e-mail

February 13, 2001|By TARA REILLY

If school's closed, you've got e-mail



The Washington County school system is using a free e-mail service that notifies parents immediately of school closings or opening delays.

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Schools-Out.com, started in 1996 by a group of Frederick County parents, automatically e-mails up-to-date information about late openings or school closings.

Parents can access the Web site at no charge. The site provides information on school closings and the weather.

"It's been a very advantageous service, and it's free," said Terry Williams, a media technician at the Washington County Board of Education's central office. "I've been very pleased with it."

Randy Schlotterbeck, a native of Washington County, thought of the idea during Hurricane Fran in 1995. He said Frederick County schools were dismissed early because of flooding, and he didn't find out until about 90 minutes later. From work, he had to call neighbors to make sure his children made it home safely.

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"Parents don't have radios in their offices or televisions on during the day, but they have all these computers sitting in front of them," Schlotterbeck said. "I thought it would be a good idea."

Schlotterbeck gathered three other people, Kirk Redman, John O'Masta and Craig Croson, to help set up the service.

Frederick County was the first school system to use the service in 1996, but it has expanded into other counties in the state. Fairfax County, Va., public schools have recently signed up for Schools-Out.com. Croson said other states, including Kentucky, Michigan and North Carolina are also interested in using the service.

"It just keeps growing from there," Croson said.

Washington County has been using Schools-Out.com since January and 1,200 users have signed up for the e-mail service. The Web site registers about 400,000 hits a day during bad weather, Croson said.

A total of about 35,000 people have subscribed to the e-mail service.

"It's very simple to sign up for the service," Croson said. "You just enter your e-mail address and click the button. It's not something that takes a lot of technical expertise."

Williams said Washington County updates its page at Schools-Out.com with school closings or delays by about 5:30 a.m. As soon as the update is complete, e-mails are automatically sent to subscribers, notifying them of the status of school.

She said the page can be updated in a matter of minutes. "It's been very time efficient," she said.

So far, the four founders of Schools-Out.com have been paying to keep the service running. Scholotterbeck said the site is becoming expensive to maintain, and they'll be looking for grants to help pay for the service.

He said Frederick County will make a presentation to the Maryland State Department of Education Technical Committee to ask for grants.

Jenny Belliotti, president of the Washington County Council of PTAs, said Schools-Out.com sounds like a good program for the county.

"It's really difficult to find out if schools are delayed," Belliotti said. "I turn on the TV in the morning and spend a lot of time waiting. Parents are always looking for easier ways to get that information. I want to sign up."

The Washington County Schools-Out.com page can be accessed by going to the Washington County Public Schools Web site at www.wcboe.k12.md.us and clicking on the "Schools Status" graphic.

Anyone can subscribe to the free e-mail service. The site can also be accessed directly by typing in Schools-Out.com.

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