HCPSS’ New Color Code Notification System

Words: Sarah Paz

The Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) is instituting a new color code notification system for school closings. Designed to standardize how the school alerts parents, students, and teachers on emergency and scheduled closings, the system uses five colors to indicate whether HCPSS schools and administrative offices are operational. 

While green represents normal operations, red represents a total shutdown of schools and offices. Orange indicates only the closing of the schools, while administrative offices remain open with liberal leave for employees who can’t report in. Blue indicates schools open two hours late, and yellow means that schools dismiss early. The notification posted will always state the code color and the corresponding message, eliminating memorization of the codes. 

The new color system was put into place on December 1. The emergency notification sources remain the same with the exception of the discontinuation of notifications on HCPSS cable TV. HCPSS will post all status updates concerning whether its schools and offices are operative on a new website, where the new color code system will be used. The new website is https://status.hcpss.org/.

The site updates every day so any stakeholder can easily see if there has been a change in that day’s operating status,” remarked Emily Bahhar, HCPSS Coordinator of Multimedia Communications. 

The new color code system and website are intended to simplify communication of the operational status of HCPSS schools and administrative offices. Bahhar stated that “an analysis of the last five years of emergency notifications found 19 variations of operating statuses. The new system standardizes HCPSS operational status to five possibilities, helping to ensure staff, students, and families understand what a possible closure might entail.” 

Although the purpose of the color coding notification system is intended to clarify all operational statuses, some teachers, parents, and students believe that the development of it was unnecessary for informing the HCPSS community. 

Chad Hollwedel, Centennial physics teacher and a parent to a child who attends an HCPSS school, believes “that the new system does nothing to help… [him] understand beyond the words of the old system.” He believes that “the old system was sufficient.” 

While many students were unaware of the changes being made by Howard County, there are students who believe that the new color-coding system answers an unimportant problem in the communication of HCPSS.

Grace Chan, a Centennial junior, believes that “the color-code system is unnecessary for students.”

Despite these sentiments, the system is beneficial for employees at the HCPSS administrative offices. Holly Pascuillo, a Centennial English teacher, stated that even though “it is superfluous for me [as a teacher] because I receive text alerts, I believe the new coding system is necessary for members in the central office, for whom the situation is more unclear.” 

The previous system often sent obscure messages to administrative workers, so the new system aims to improve communication within the school system. 

Bahhar clarified, “in prior years, messaging to staff included only information for employees with union bargaining agreements and [created] a great deal of confusion for the remaining staff. The new system includes all employee groups, providing consistency and a clear direction for all staff. The language also was edited to be more clear and concise, and adheres to the negotiated bargaining agreements, where relevant.”

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