Open for Business: Power Outages Do Not Cancel School

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Open for Business: Power Outages Do Not Cancel School

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Inclement weather resulted in a massive power outage in the metro area, affecting six schools in the Westside district on Sunday, Oct. 14. However, despite Westside Middle School, West Campus, Rockbrook, Prairie Lane, Oakdale, and Sunset Hills all going without power until early the next day, school was not canceled.

“It really was a very easy decision for us [at the ABC building],” Brandi Paul, director of communications and engagement, said. “If we had power, great, then we needed to have school. If we didn’t have power then obviously we wouldn’t have heat, we wouldn’t have electricity, lighting, or anything like that so school wasn’t an option.”

After the power went out, Russ Olsen, director of facilities, was notified by the building engineers at those six schools. Olsen then contacted the district’s OPPD account executive to get further information about the power situation.

“Usually [the OPPD representative] can give us a general time frame about when the electricity is going to come back on,” Olsen said. “In this situation they couldn’t give us any information because it was so widespread and unpredictable because it was related to weather.”

Due to the unpredictability of the situation, district superintendent Blane McCann and other directors at the ABC building could not make a final decision on that Sunday night about whether or not to have school. Instead, Olsen said McCann worked with the district communications department to notify the parents of those six schools Sunday night that there was a possibility of school being cancelled Monday.  

“Our concern when we sent out that message last night was, ‘if the power doesn’t kick on until four or five in the morning, would our buildings have enough time to get warm for students and teachers to start showing up?’” Paul said. “Obviously without electricity, a lot of our technology that we as Americans are so reliant on now we wouldn’t be able to use.”

While that message was sent out to parents and the decision on whether or not to cancel school remained top priority, Olsen was working around the clock staying in communication with both McCann and OPPD to try to manage the power situation.

“I was in communication with Dr. McCann from about noon till probably about nine o’clock that evening, then made arrangements to be up early,” Olsen said. “I got up at 3:30 on Monday morning and ran into the buildings that were affected just to double check that the electricity had come back on, because we knew that we had to make a decision by 5:30 , 6 o’clock if we were going to have to close school for those six buildings.”

Paul said that the reason the district held out from cancelling school was not only because there was a chance the power could come back on, but also because of the complications they would face if the power ended up failing. If they were to have school and the power stopped, teachers and administrators would have to send their students home, and releasing students to their parents is a difficult process.

“To release students to their parents is a very tricky process,” Paul said. “We actually move a bunch of our staff to whatever building that is to make sure we’re checking IDs and making sure that an emergency contact or that parent/guardian is the one picking up the child. It’s not as easy as saying ‘okay we’re going to let everyone go in half an hour come pick them up.’ It’s actually a very detailed process, and we want to make sure if we’re going to do that we know the power isn’t coming back on.”  

The power was restored at around two on Monday morning and school was held for all six of those schools. However, some schools still had issues with the power throughout the day. Olsen said that the unpredictability of the situation was the biggest challenge and Rockbrook was a prime example of that.

“I went to Rockbrook at 4:30 and the power was restored to the building,” Olsen said. “At 6:30 I got a phone call from the building engineer … that the electricity had gone back off.”

Olsen said that a branch had snapped and knocked down another power line that went to the school. By the time it was noticed it was too late to call school, so they functioned with partial power, heating and some lighting still intact until OPPD fully restored the power at around eleven o’clock. Rockbrook principal, Garret Higginbotham, said the students used natural light and battery powered electronics while the power was down so school could continue as normal.

“We wanted to make sure the day continued with as little disruption as possible,” Higginbotham said. “So we worked with building services and nutrition services to make sure that our schedule was as close to normal as possible.”

The Middle School also experienced issues. Principal Kim Eymann said they are unsure whether the issues were due to the power outage or if it is just a coincidence that they occurred at the same time as the outage.

“We were having issues with some of our doors … and we are trying to figure out if that is because of power or if there’s just a glitch in the system,” Eymann said.

Overall, Paul said that her main concern with the the power outage and the decision whether or not to cancel school all came down to what was best for the students and faculty in those schools.

“Our number one goal is to not only teach kids, but to make sure that everyone, all of the staff and students in our buildings are safe and comfortable,” Paul said.

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