Monday, May 08, 2017

Statement by Superintendent Kurt Browning Regarding Wildfire and Schools

Land O’ Lakes, FL – (May 8, 2017) – First, I want to thank the principals of River Ridge High and River Ridge Middle schools, Toni Zetsche and Angie Murphy, and their staff for the way they responded this morning.  Everyone jumped into action and did what was necessary to keep students safe.

Now, let me describe our activities leading up to that decision.  School staff and maintenance staff checked on the River Ridge schools throughout the weekend and the smoke was never like it was this morning when administrators arrived.  Administrators immediately contacted their direct supervisors and a discussion ensued among district leadership.  In less than 30 minutes, the decision was made to close the two River Ridge schools.

Automated messages were sent to families and information was posted on social media immediately.  Parents dropping off students and students driving to school were advised to return home.  Students who had come to school on buses were held inside the school until we could get buses back to transport those students home.

Maintenance staff killed the fresh air at 6 a.m. and are running the AC constantly to clear the smoke from RRM/HS.  It ran for about 10 minutes this morning, which brought in smoky outside air.  Smoke continued to enter the school as students and staff came through doors.  Maintenance staff will replace air filters this evening, but there still may be a slight smoke smell tomorrow.

Maintenance staff monitored Cypress Elementary throughout the morning, and we consulted with the school principal before deciding to close that school.  Parents and emergency contacts were notified that school was closed via automated phone message, email and text message beginning at 8:38 a.m.  School starts at 9:40 a.m.  Information also was posted on social media

Wind conditions continue to change.  Clearly, we can’t plan ahead like we can for a hurricane.  We’ve sent guidance to all school principals and asked them to use their best judgment with respect to outdoor activities.

 We have been told to expect visibility to be poor in the early morning for the next week.

In light of this, and because predicting wind/weather conditions the evening before is impossible, we are moving the start time for River Ridge Middle/High School to 10:45 a.m. for the remainder of this week. Buses will pick up students 3 hours and 15 minutes later than on a normal day.  Dismissal will be at 5:10 p.m.

We realize that changing arrival and dismissal times will cause logistical issues for some families, including our staff members.  We will work with the affected individuals in these situations.  We have made arrangements with PLACE to accept elementary children of faculty and staff members who have childcare concerns.  I’m asking for parents and students to please be patient as we work through this very fluid process.

The National Weather Service will send several members of my staff and me 3 a.m. weather condition updates so that we can have information on which to base school opening and closing before students board buses in the morning.  If conditions at a school or schools are predicted to be smoky or hazardous, we will send automated phone messages early in the morning to students whose schools are closing.  We realize that this, too, will be disruptive, but our goal will be to get the information to families as early as possible.

We will reassess this schedule at the end of this week.  Parents and staff will be notified of plans for next week and beyond on Friday, based on the information we have at that time.  If anything changes over next weekend, we will notify parents and staff as quickly as possible.

One final note:  We have some important testing that will still take place.  I encourage students to come to school so they can take their Advanced Placement and end-of-course exams.  RRHS has contacted College Board regarding AP testing and are looking in to off-site testing for small groups.  For others, we will move testing until after seniors’ last day.  Algebra 1 EOC starts tomorrow.  Schools likely will move that testing to closer to end of school.

Some students and staff have work obligations in the afternoon.  We are appealing to employers to be flexible with these individuals, especially students who have important tests.