Wake decides early to close schools Friday
Posted February 19, 2015
Cary, N.C. — After a day spent playing defense over its handling of a school closing decision, the Wake County Public School System went on the offense Thursday evening, announcing before 5:30 p.m. that classes were canceled for Friday.
Other area school districts closed Friday include Durham, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Orange, Johnston, Chatham and Lee.
Wake County's school district issued an alert at about 9:45 p.m. Wednesday that no classes would be held Thursday, which was about three hours after other school districts in the Triangle made similar decisions.
Parents and students watched the district's Twitter account throughout the day for word on Thursday's schedule and became increasingly irritated as the evening wore on with no word. At about 6 p.m., as closings were announced for other districts, Wake schools officials were wrapping up a day-long trivia contest on Twitter and sent out the following message:
Jokes and criticism flew across social media when there was no immediate follow-up message. One person tweeted, "I'll be married with kids by the time @WCPSS decides if we have school or not," while another sent the message "Coach K will stop coaching before @WCPSS decides."
More tweets were sent Wednesday night using the district's Twitter handle than tweets using the hashtag for the UNC-Duke basketball game.
School officials tried to fend it off:
"All parents have responsibilities. We all have jobs," said Andy Coltrane of Cary. "We need to know what’s going on earlier in the day.
"Wake County was just dawdling around," he continued. "Counties east of us were closed (as were) counties west, south and north. There’s no reason to assume Wake County wouldn’t be closed, but for them not to make the decision till 9:30 is irresponsible, flat irresponsible."
District spokeswoman Lisa Luten said the policy is to try to make a decision on a weather-related closure by 11 p.m. if possible to broadcast the message on the late news. If not, the decision would be made by 4:45 a.m. to get it announced as soon as possible on the morning news.
Luten called the decision important not only for safety but it's impact on education, and it isn't a decision that officials take lightly.
School board members agreed, saying they want to accommodate parents as much as possible but that decisions need to be driven by safety and educational concerns.
"Wake County has always worked hard to accommodate families," board member Jim Martin said. "Then, when we take longer on a decision due to safety concerns than they would like, people get upset. They need to put it in perspective."
"We know we’ll never please everyone. We are a large school district. It takes longer to make these decisions, and the safety of our children and staff has to be the top priority," board member Keith Sutton said.
Sutton added that, as a parent, he empathized with those questioning the district's decision, but added that it take time to make the right decision.
"Those parents who were inconvenienced, I apologize for that," he continued. "But we have to put the safety of the students and staff first and that's what the staff was doing."
Coltrane and others also criticized the tone of the district's Twitter messages.
Coltrane said the district needs to communicate professionally with area families, "not through a Twitter account that seems to be more of a comedy show that honest communication."
"It was infuriating," he said. "They were playing games and riddles. We don’t want riddles. We want to know if they’re going to be open or closed."
Martin added that Twitter is an important tool for the district to connect with social media-savvy students.