School officials leave students twisting in the wind
By Carlee Lammers
Round Table editor-in-chief
An intense slap of rain hit her bedroom window as she was suddenly awakened at 4 a.m. by her mother frantically shaking her exclaiming the family needed to seek shelter in their basement immediately. As she raced out of her bed the sound of sirens from the Middletown Fire Department resonated across the valley, an announcer came over the town intercom system warning citizens to take cover. Middletown High School sophomore Meagan Parker and her family sought shelter in the early hours of the morning as they anxiously awaited the storm to pass.
The National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. issued three tornado warnings for Frederick County throughout the morning of April 28.
A tornado watch is placed in effect only when the formation of a tornado funnel is probable due to weather conditions.
Once the early morning warning had been lifted another warning was issued almost immediately after, just as many high school students across Frederick County were outside waiting to catch their bus.
“When the siren went off again I was terrified because I didn’t really know what to do. Schools weren’t delayed, so I had to make my bus at the same time they were telling us to take immediate shelter. That just wasn’t possible at the time,” said Parker.
Many MHS parents held high concerns as their children traveled to school in the midst of severe weather threats.
“My mom was really concerned that I was going to school (with serious weather in the area),” said MHS junior Ben Vershel.
FCPS communications coordinator Dian Nelson said that school transportation officials, including bus drivers, were trained and knew exactly how to react in the event that they did face a tornado while transporting students to school.
However, for some Middletown High School parents Nelson’s assurance wasn’t enough.
“I believe it was irresponsible for the busses to have been enroute to pick up the high school students during an emergancy weather alert that was serious enough to activate the tornado sirens with instructions to take shelter. My high school student was sick today and did not attend school, but if she were to have been picked up as usual I would have not allowed her to board the bus,” said MHS parent Daean Menke.
Nelson said that when there are isolated reports of tornadoes or severe weather within the county, “there is no county-wide protocol.”
Under the Frederick County Public Schools Calendar Handbook an absence or late arrival due to “hazardous weather conditions” is “considered lawful and therefore excused, as described in the Public School Laws and Code of Bylaws of the Maryland State Board of Education.”
“With a county as large and geographically diverse as ours, it is hard to make a decision to close schools county-wide, so it becomes the parents’ decision (to keep their children from school),” said Nelson.
Nelson also said that due to the fact that “high school transportation starts so early there needs to be time to make a decision,” which FCPS deemed there was not enough of.
Nelson said that “all schools were notified repeatedly” as the status of the county’s weather alerts were updated throughout the day.
Principals across the county were instructed to act accordingly; instructing students and staff to seek shelter if they deemed it necessary in their school’s area.
Several schools urged students and staff to seek “shelter indoors” in the morning as the final warning was issued.
A staff member from Linganore High School said that Principal Dave Kehne “announced over the school’s intercom to have students and staff move into the the auditorium, gym, the middle of the building in hallways away from windows and into the music room,” after Kehne deemed weather conditions in the school’s area severe enough to take action.
Students in classes outside of the school building held in portables were removed from the portables, and brought inside the school building. Students and staff were not permitted to exit school buildings as they were instructed to keep “shelter indoors”.
“A number neighboring counties with issued tornado warnings remained open and on time,” said Nelson. Along with Frederick; Baltimore, Carroll, Howard and Montgomery counties remained open and on time despite tornado warnings implemented for their area.
Nelson said that the decision to have schools remain open was based on the location of the reported funnels and the speed at which they were traveling through an area.
Also, FCPS superintendent Linda Burgee was on leave for the entire week, and other school officials did not want to make a decision regarding the delaying of schools without her.
According to a story from The Frederick News Post, Burgee released an apology to parents the day following the storms, due to “parents’ frustration regarding students being on buses during tornado and flash-flood warnings, and because of the Board of Education’s concerns.”
“Frederick County Public Schools did not respond in the manner we should have to the tornado warnings of yesterday morning, April 28. We apologize to our students and their families for any worry or concerns caused,” said Burgee in the released apology.
Burgee assured parents that she is “working with staff to reevaluate” the FCPS’ “safety protocol.”
“Timely decision making and communication in future emergency situations are critical to maintaining your trust in us to keep our students safe,” said Burgee.