Parents upset about districts' handling of cancellations

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by JADE MINGUS / KVUE News and HEATHER KOVAR / KVUE News

Bio | Email | Follow: @HeatherK_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on January 28, 2014 at 1:05 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 28 at 7:20 PM

ROUND ROCK -- Parents say they're upset with the late notification of delayed and canceled classes from Central Texas school districts.

The Leander, Round Rock and Pflugerville School Districts were among the last to decide to delay class due to icy weather on Tuesday. They later announced they were canceling school altogether.

Parents took to social media to express their frustration.

On The KVUE Insider Debbie Rose wrote, "So much irresponsibility from the leaders at RRISD. This could all have easily been avoided. My streets were iced over in Teravista at 6:30 a.m. There should never have been kids at school."

Another KVUE Insider, Susan Humphrey, expressed her opinion about Pflugerville ISD saying quote, "PISD was so irresponsible. They called the delay 10 minutes before middle school started."

KVUE snapped a photo of a Pflugerville ISD bus that lost control on the road. Emergency crews also responded to a bus crash in Leander. Seven students were on board, but none were injured.

Cele Middle School sixth-grader Isabella Herbert got on her Pflugerville ISD bus at the normal time: 7:40 a.m. She said it was so icy, they got stuck three times.

"Everybody was really scared and hungry," Isabella said.

She said she was finally able to borrow a cell phone to call her mom.

"She says, 'We're stuck. We can't move. There's a wreck in front of us, and if we tip over we'll fall in the ditch,'" said Isabella's mother, Kristen Herbert. The ice just stopped the bus near Pflugerville Lake. The bus driver got in contact with PISD, and they sent an officer, and he came on the bus and he said, 'You can call your parents. Tell them what happened, but I would advise not to have them come pick you up, because then they would be in danger and we don’t want that."

After what Isabella described as a scary two hours aboard that bus, the students finally arrived at Kelly Lane Middle school, which isn’t her school.

“I just shouldn’t have put her on the bus in the first place. I just kept waiting for that phone call,” said Isabella's mother.

The mother said she got an email from the district saying school was delayed at 8 a.m., 20 minutes after Isabella got on the bus. Even teachers across the district expressed safety concerns.

“I just hope PISD stays on the ball and keeps everyone informed so they can make safe decisions,” said teacher Evan Stenger. He said he got the call saying school was delayed 40 minutes after school doors opened.

Parents in other districts called with complaints. One Round Rock parent told KVUE that she dropped her 8-year-old son after school, and later they told him to walk two and a half miles home, telling him to ask his mom to bring him back later in the day.

Pflugerville ISD Superintendent Alex Torrez, Ph.D. released the following statement:

Pflugerville ISD Stakeholders,

I want to apologize for the late decision on delaying the start of school and then canceling school. The safety of our students and staff members is always our first priority, and I acknowledge that we could have made better decisions this morning.

When wintery weather is expected, Pflugerville ISD prepares in advance for possible school closures or delays. District officials took part in weather conference calls as early as 3 a.m. this morning, and road conditions were still drivable. Conditions worsened after the initial decision was made just before 5 a.m., and the district changed course as soon as it became apparent road conditions were unsafe.

We know conditions may change at any time, and we do our best to be responsive to those changes. We will conduct a review of our internal procedures and communications process for situations like this.

I regret that we did not make the decision to delay or close school earlier, and I sincerely apologize to our students, parents and staff members.

Alex Torrez, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Pflugerville Independent School District

Round Rock ISD's superintendent Steve Flores, Ph.D. released the following statement:

"Allow me to take a moment to apologize for the timing of our Round Rock ISD notifications regarding today's schedule changes. It is fully understood that as a result of our late notifications, many of our dedicated employees and students were already making their way to school and work in deteriorating driving conditions.

Any time severe weather threatens Central Texas, Round Rock ISD confers with local emergency management and law enforcement agencies throughout  the evening and morning hours. The district's transportation department scouted road conditions across our 110 square mile district, so we could make an informed decision on whether to send buses out by 6 a.m. As the buses began their routes, and shortly thereafter, measurable precipitation began falling. 

It is important to note, we took part in a weather conference call at 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. this morning and the information available at that time indicated roads would be clear and safe for travel.  This led to my decision to continue with regular school schedules.  Knowing Texas weather can change rapidly, we were all on alert to modify plans if needed. 

As the Superintendent of Schools, I take full responsibility for any inconvenience and subsequent travel hazards for our staff and students that resulted from my decision. While I am proud of our bus drivers for safely transporting students and our campus employees for keeping those who made it to school safe, ultimately, student and staff safety is my responsibility. 

I take that responsibility seriously and I can assure you that student and staff safety is our most important priority in Round Rock ISD. With that in mind, I will take the input from our community and work with my leadership team to review our processes and procedures.

My apology is extended to each and every Round Rock ISD stakeholder. In conclusion, I value your input and thoughts and share your concerns expressed. As we continue to work together we will do what is in the best interest of our children. "

Leander ISD released a statement saying, "Officials monitored roads all night and routes were passable. The district says weather dropped rapidly and conditions changed so Leander ISD modified its plan."

It wasn't just K-12 schools that experienced frustration with a late decision on whether to delay or cancel classes. The University of Texas at Austin issued an apology for any inconveniences that their late decision may have caused.

The statement read:

Student and employee safety is our top concern and we understand the frustration that many on the Forty Acres feel about today’s weather-related delays.

We’re very sorry for any trouble, inconvenience or problems that our students and employees faced related to our decisions.

During a 3 a.m. call this morning with university leaders, local and school district officials and meteorologists, it appeared that conditions would be safe for the morning commute. It didn’t turn out that way.

The weather and road conditions deteriorated at rush hour and law enforcement warnings about driving increased during the morning. We responded by delaying the opening of campus and, finally, by canceling classes completely.

Although AISD announced a delay last night, our logistical needs are different than the school district’s needs and it looked as if we would be able to open safely.

We are always working to improve our processes and to learn from each incident. Clearly, that includes today’s episode.

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