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Parents: Notification system failed them for early school closing

Posted July 30, 2008
Updated July 31, 2008

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— Salem Elementary School in Apex dismissed students at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday after the school's air conditioning malfunctioned.

The school said it notified parents, but some say they never got the word. That meant some children got off buses while their parents were at work.

Tia Williams and her husband had just sat down for lunch when an unexpected visitor showed up at their door.

“She came up and rang the doorbell and I went and opened the door, and I was kind of surprised to see her,” Williams said.

The person at the door was her 10-year-old daughter, who was supposed to be in school.

“She said, 'Hey, I got out of school early today. The air conditioner is broken and it got too hot in school, so they sent us all home,'”  Williams said.

When three large fan motors went out on the school's air-conditioning unit, administrators called in the buses early and sent phone messages to parents.

The problem: many parents never got word until the children got off the bus.

“It is frightening,” Williams said.

WRAL talked with several other families in Williams' neighborhood. Most said they got a message at home, but not at work or on their cell phones.

“As far as we know, the system worked as it is supposed to,” Wake Schools spokesman Greg Thomas said.

Thomas said Salem Elementary and the Wake County school system sent calls to every contact phone number listed for each child before the early release.

“It will call all of them. And that's why it's really important for parents to make sure that they get updated contact information back to the school,” Thomas said.

The school system also posted a notice on its Web site and notified news media to help spread the word.

Thomas said the school’s principal on Thursday looked into the process of gathering data for the emergency call system. The school wants to make sure they have all contact numbers and the correct numbers.

Williams said she recently updated new contact phone numbers, and others have been the same for years.

“I did check my voice mail. I checked my cell phone voice mail. I didn't hear anything from the school,” she added.

Parents like Williams hope the school will review the phone system before calling it an early day again. School administrators said they will double-check the system for any possible problems.

The air conditioner was repaired while the children were at home, and Salem Elementary is scheduled to reopen Thursday morning.

The county school system is looking into the technology-aspect of the call system. The department found some flaws with how the data is transferred to the vendor, Thomas said. Most of those flaws were corrected Thursday. The remaining flaws will be corrected as soon as possible, he said.


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  • KellyCrash Aug 6, 2008

    Teachers have cell phones. They should use them to personally contact parents in an emergency like this. I don't think it's an unreasonable request.

    I really cannot believe all the comments about not having a/c in your schools when you were growing up. Did you go to school up north or are you all in nursing homes? I went to school in South Carolina & we most definitely had a/c. I haven't been in a public school classroom in almost 20 years.

    I don't get a warm fuzzy feeling about my daughter's safety and well being in public school. To me it feels like she's just another body. I haven't really experienced any real caring for children through the public schools. We're just getting started tho so I am hoping my initial reaction is unfounded.

  • teacher56 Aug 1, 2008

    Hey familyfour...it is not shallow and inconsiderate to do a job. It is up to WCPSS to notify parents. The system did that. How in the world do you expect a personally answered phone call to be done for over 100,000 students in the system! Be real! Also, teachers are not there to babysit either! We have lives. You are right...they are not our children...they are YOURS so make sure you can be reached at all times no matter what!

  • daMoFo Aug 1, 2008

    So it's been established that folks up north are much tougher than Southern folk since they only close schools up north if the snow is fifty feet deep. And when many of us were growing up, we sat in classrooms where the temperature was 200 degrees and didn't complain and learned 10 times what kids learn today and were all smarter than today's teachers.

    Actually it doesn't take 6 or 8 inches of snow to get a 2 hour delay up north. I have friends in Ohio and Pennsylvania and they have told me schools closed for far less snow than that if the roads are iced.

    My elementary school didn't have AC either, but every classroom had windows all along one side that could be opened and classrooms also had fans. Many schools built in the last 30 years have interior rooms with no windows, exterior rooms with large glass panes but only a couple small windows that can be opened and no fans unless the teachers bring their own. The HS where I teach, my room has hit 92 when the AC is out.

  • Iworkforaliving Aug 1, 2008

    Sending kids home because of no a/c????? You're kidding, right?
    Can everyone say.....spoiled? Thanks, I knew you could.

  • superman Aug 1, 2008

    It is not even reasonable to expect someone to call personally every parent on the list. Most kids have a mother and father-- the mother and father have work numbers, cell phones and home phones. This was an emergency situation. Most schools would have only 3 or 4 outside lines to make calls. The parents should have a backup plan in place-- not the school. Kids could be told that in the event of any emergency they should go to a neighbors house. How many kids does the school have 500 or so? How in the world could you make 2 or 3 phone calls for each child until you reached a parent? Parents could be in meetings at work or not available to answer the phone. This was an emergecny and the school did the best they could. After all -- they are your kids and you are responsible. So easy to blame others--no wonder so many kids on drugs-- Each school should have one good contact number for each set of parents.

  • thefensk Aug 1, 2008

    The bottom line here is that this sort of thing shouldn't be handled by an automated system. Not a good plan at all. Let the automated system call the media.

    Anybody who didn't get a firm voice to voice contact should not have been put on a bus and they should have continued to call until they got ahold of someone. Likewise parents who might have said they could not get home in time might have instructed them to hold the kids at the school. Sure it was hot, but they should have enough fans to blow on the leftovers.

  • WRAL is joe_dirt Aug 1, 2008

    reelhillbilly, I think you're doing women a disservice. Did you ever stop to think that in many families, one parent staying home isn't a choice?

    Pardon me, please. Are you saying women don't have a choice? Is there a dark force somewhere that's threatening their lives if they don't? We need to create a special task force and put a stop to this NOW!

    It's a dirty shame the care and safety of our nation's children is being sacrificed so parents can be "fashionable" in the eyes of others.

  • eastwakegirl Aug 1, 2008

    i worked at an elem school for years. we used an inclement weather sheet and each teacher contacted the parent to confirm trans home during emergency closing. worked well for us. sometimes relaying on computers when u are dealing with such precious cargo isn't a good idea. most all classrooms now have telephones so this is a workable plan. i don't blame these parents for being upset. wcpss should do a better job with such issues especially with the taxes we pay and the amount of money put into the computer systems.

  • familyfour Aug 1, 2008

    Also teacher56, if everyone in WCPSS has the same philosophy you do, I see exaxtly why WCPSS sees no problem with what has been happenning, and why it happened like it did to start with.

  • NeverSurrender Aug 1, 2008

    "Hey everybody...the school system made the calls and notified the media. They did their part. Make plans NOW if you want to keep your child safe in ANY emergency. Sheesh...they are afterall YOUR kids for pete's sake!!!"


    So the act of just making a phone call regardless of whether you actually got a human being on the other end to receive and acknowledge the message that the kids are being sent home is good enough in your view?

    It seems like a refresher course for liability claims is in order for WCPSS' employees because just blithely sending the kids home without being sure they're going to be safe is just asking for a big lawsuit that I guarantee WCPSS will *BEG* to settle before it goes to trial.

    If you can't raise the parent, then you hold the child in a safe place until you can arrange for the parent to take the child. Period.

    You don't just throw them out the door, put them on the buses, and hope for the best...particularly for younger students and students on IEPs.