Just before 8 p.m. Monday, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools began sending out messages to 190,000 families that Tuesday’s schedule would be normal, despite wind and rain from the remains of Hurricane Irma.
About 90 minutes later CMS posted a new message on social media: The district had decided to “err on the side of safety” and open schools two hours late.
“So the call I got literally 10 minutes ago means nothing?” read the first of what would become a stream of comments and queries on the CMS Facebook page.
“That’s correct,” came the reply. “We are operating on the most recent data and feel this change is warranted.”
Decisions related to bad weather and school schedules are always controversial. The first one for Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who started July 3, came earlier than most, thanks to a hurricane that hit Florida hard only two weeks after school began. By Monday it had dwindled to a tropical storm whose edges came through Charlotte, bringing little more than steady rain and gusts of wind during the day.
But an 8 p.m. briefing with emergency management officials, held while winds and rain were picking up and trees and power lines were coming down, prompted the decision to delay. As of midday Tuesday, five CMS schools – Ashley Park, Gunn, Hidden Valley, Lansdowne and Irwin – were relying on generators and battery-powered restroom lanterns as power remained out.
Hidden Valley Elementary in northeast Charlotte will be closed Wednesday because power hadn’t yet been restored, CMS announced Tuesday evening. All other schools will operate on normal schedules.
Naturally there was second-guessing Tuesday. “There are leaves literally all over my backyard. I think you should cancel school for the week, you know just to be safe,” said one tongue-in-cheek post on the CMS Facebook page.
Because the district’s automated contact system must reach so many people, there was additional confusion when some people got the “normal schedule” call or text, then saw the two-hour delay on social media. Families who had put their kids to bed assuming Tuesday’s schedule would be routine peppered CMS with questions about bus arrivals, school breakfast and dismissal time (that’s normal). Some said they were further confused when morning news shows didn’t announce the delay.
“Some parents work nights and can not read Facebook. Why, why was the morning news shows not alerted?!!” wrote one parent who reported getting no follow-up call. “I was at the bus stop regular time! Thanks to a neighbor who told me and did not want me waiting two hours. ... Early communication fail. I hope this is the last.”
A district spokeswoman said the “normal schedule” message went out starting at 7:48 p.m. Monday, though the length of the contact list meant many received those messages after the 8 p.m. briefing with emergency officials.
CMS posted the delay on social media at 9:20 p.m., notified news media at 9:27 and launched a new round of individual contacts to its 190,000 subscribers at 10:15.
Families who didn’t get a call or text should check with their children’s schools to make sure up-to-date contact information is on file.