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Severe weather causes clashes between parents and local school districts

A North Carolina school bus located in Carrboro, N.C. on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2020. On Feb. 6, 2020, local schools dismissed early in order to get students home in the midst of severe weather. The storms coincided with dismissals, however, causing students and staff to return indoors.

Local school districts’ early dismissals and school closings last week coincided with a severe weather warning, which caused some parents to express disappointment online.

Orange County Schools and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools announced on their Facebook pages Thursday morning that there would be a two-hour early dismissal in anticipation of severe weather. It was during that time when Orange County was placed under a severe thunderstorm warning as a line of storms passed through the county.

Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for CHCCS, said the district does everything they can to keep their children and staff safe. He said they work with emergency management officials and neighboring districts to determine the best course of action.

“A lot of our staff work in other districts, and sometimes if those districts are closing then they have their children that they need to tend to, and we need to make sure we have enough people here to take care of our students, as well,” Nash said. 

Sara Pitts, director of environmental health and safety for OCS, said when they called for the early release they did not expect the weather to pick up until later in the afternoon.

“We were going to pull a two-hour early release in order to get the buses off the road and have everyone home safely before the winds pick up,” Pitts said. 

Pitts said around 12:45 p.m., they got the call about the high winds. She said the buses were not allowed to leave until the high wind warning was gone. Pitts said when the tornado warning came, school officials responded accordingly.

“Again, we went over our emergency radios and told everyone that we were in a tornado warning, we needed to get everyone to shelter in place,” Pitts said. “We pulled all the bus drivers in because they would have been on-site in their buses — we pulled them all back in.”

Pitts said staff went outside to tell parents who were in the carpool lane that they could come get their children and take them home, but they were encouraging everyone to shelter-in-place at the schools. She said after the warnings expired, the buses were allowed to leave.

Nash said they were making the best decisions they could with information that was changing throughout the day.

“Not so much the severity, it pretty much was what they said,” Nash said. “But the timing of it was a little different. It did come a little sooner than everybody thought, and so we did want to get our folks home at a safe time.”

Some parents responded to the schools' Facebook posts with concerns about the decisions made on Thursday and Friday. 

Chris DiGiovanna, whose child attends Carrboro Elementary School, said he would like to see a more defined policy for inclement weather that would provide a way to communicate in advance when delays or cancellations would happen. He said he was frustrated by receiving multiple robocalls from the school within two hours.

“I was just thinking, you know, that to me is poor communication because you should be able to think, ‘OK, what am I going to do in the next hour to two hours,’” DiGiovanna said. “And communicate that in one to two messages.”

Nash said the type of storms that passed through last week are difficult because they are more difficult to predict than something like snow or hurricanes.

“We’d love to contact parents the night before and say there’s no school, and that gives them a little more time to make their arrangements,” Nash said. “But then sometimes a storm comes and buses are already rolling, and all of a sudden there are tornado warnings or something like that.”


@DTHCityState |

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