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Schools in D.C. area reopen cautiously

sniper
A state trooper patrols the parking lot at a Montgomery County school.

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The dilemma facing investigators, parents in Montgomery County after latest warning thought to be from sniper.
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School attendance in Montgomery County has dropped dramatically as terrified parents keep their children at home.
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SPECIAL REPORT
• Interactive: The death penalty
• Interactive: Police close in
• Interactive: Suspects' trail
• Story: D.C. area victims

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Public school officials in the D.C. area and Virginia kept schools open Wednesday, after a message believed to be from the sniper ominously warned that children "are not safe anywhere, at any time."

School districts contacted by CNN said they were in close touch with law enforcement officials about their plans and decided the schools would be safe. Schools put strict limits on outdoor activities and there was a heavy police presence at some schools.

"Obviously we take the threats very seriously," said Elena Temple, a spokeswoman for the District of Columbia Board of Education. "We do feel as if the children are safe in school."

The one change D.C. schools made Wednesday is not running bus service to the public schools, said Superintendent Paul Vance.

"That was a close call for us," he said of Tuesday's shooting in neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland, where a bus driver was gunned down in an attack believed to be linked to the sniper.

"We have several facilities that we sent children to -- special-education children -- and our buses travel that same route. Forty-five minutes, 50 minutes later, it could well have been one of our buses," said Vance.

School officials in Montgomery County said they would continue Code Blue security restrictions on Wednesday. That means recess and physical education will be held inside, and open lunch for high school seniors and field trips will not be held at all.

"School system staff, students, parents, and the community are asked to continue to be patient and flexible in order to allow the school system the maximum ability to respond correctly to changing circumstances," read a statement from the Montgomery County Public Schools.

Dewitt Wood, the father of a student in Montgomery County, took his son home early Tuesday following the fatal shooting. He said he is considering keeping his son at home until the sniper is caught.

"If I had known earlier," Wood said of the shooting, "I probably wouldn't have let him come to school at all."

An elementary school student named Melissa was escorted out of school by her father. "I was scared, because anything could have happened at school," she said. "I just wanted to be safe with my family."

In neighboring Prince George's County, which also abuts the District of Columbia, schools also were observing a Code Blue Wednesday, said Athena Ware, spokeswoman for the county's public schools. A heightened police presence also will be in place around the schools, she said.

A letter found near the scene of Saturday's sniper shooting in Ashland, Virginia, warned in a postscript: "Your children are not safe anywhere, at any time." The words were read aloud by Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose.

Moose said investigators had already shared that element of the letter with community leaders and law enforcement authorities to let them know of the threat, but he said he would not discuss the letter's other contents because it would be "detrimental to the investigation."

The shooting in Ashland, about 80 miles south of the nation's capital, led authorities there to close 10 Richmond area school districts Monday and Tuesday. But all 10 districts planned to reopen Wednesday, said Laura Neff-Henderson, a representative of the Petersburg Public Schools who spoke on behalf of the region.

"After discussion with law enforcement and consideration of all the events that have gone on ... we are going back to school," she said. "Of course, we have safety precautions in place. Most of the precautions are precautions and safety measures that have always been in place -- they're just going to be more heavily and strictly enforced."



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