As you know, on Friday, August 30, we made the announcement that we were closing schools on Tuesday, September 3, 2019, due to the potential for Hurricane Dorian to hit Pasco County. That decision was not made until we had completed numerous conversations with Pasco Emergency Management officials, neighboring school district superintendents, and senior district staff.
When we made the decision, we knew that some people would be critical of us for making the decision too early. We also knew that if we waited, some people would be critical of us for not making the decision earlier.
Let me share what is involved in making the decision whether to close schools for a hurricane.
- We closely monitor the National Hurricane Center forecast models for days.
- We participate in at least daily conference calls with the county EOC (which began on Tuesday, August 27) and pay close attention to predicted wind speed, rainfall, storm surge, and flooding potential.
- The Florida Department of Education recommends that school districts cease bus transportation when sustained wind speeds exceed 35 miles-per-hour.
- If roads flood, buses can’t get to some bus stops.
- We don’t want children walking through flood waters to get to bus stops or school.
- We consider whether we might be asked to open school shelters for evacuees from other Florida counties.
- We consider how much time families and our employees need to prepare their homes and make other arrangements. In the case of Hurricane Dorian, we had a three-day weekend scheduled and wanted to let families know on Friday because many were planning trips out of town.
- We needed to prepare schools that were targeted for opening as shelters, and we wanted the staff at those schools, maintenance staff, and food and nutrition services staff to be able to do that before the holiday weekend.
- Other districts were making decisions, which creates a domino effect. People see that a nearby county has announced they’re closing, and the pressure is on!
- We knew that staff, students, and parents were stressed out because each update showed a higher potential for the hurricane hitting Pasco.
The decision to close schools because of a hurricane threat is not easy, and we don’t make it in a vacuum. I know it can cause disruption for families, but we will always err on the side of safety, because your children’s safety is our top priority.