Hurricane Florence: Don’t blame CMS for closing schools. That decision began with the governor

Parents of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools students are in full grumble this morning about classes being canceled today and Friday as Hurricane Florence approaches. It doesn’t help matters that it’s sunny outside, with no rain from the hurricane arriving until Friday at the earliest.

But the call to cancel schools this week — and the timing behind that call — was something that began 170 miles away, in Gov. Roy Cooper’s office.

Here’s the back story: On Wednesday morning, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio informed county commissioners that the governor had requested that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management Office (CMEMO) open five emergency shelters to accommodate evacuees from Florence. The five emergency shelters, located at East Mecklenburg, South Mecklenburg, North Mecklenburg, Olympic and Ardrey Kell high schools, would open at various times on Wednesday.

“The County’s primary site locations for potential shelters, including Marion Diehl and Tuckaseegee Recreation Centers, may be activated in the future; however, sites are being activated in priority order to avoid locations in flood prone areas of the County,” Diorio said.

With that decision, school cancellation became an inevitability. As the CMS announcement later Wednesday noted: “With safety as a priority, the district considered security, maintenance, traffic and staffing needs at shelters as a part of the decision-making process. Very heavy traffic during evacuations is difficult to predict and could significantly impact and delay CMS transportation and other operations,” the statement said.

It’s difficult to criticize Cooper and other officials for having the foresight and compassion to prepare for evacuees from Florence, and CMS made the right call concerning those shelters to accommodate staff and ensure the safety of students.

Given that inevitability of schools closing, however, we’re sure parents would have liked to have known earlier Wednesday. Canceling school presents an inconvenience for many parents — and a burden that many others need time to prepare for.

Also, the cancellation prompts a question that CMS parents ask at other times, too: Why cancel school for the whole district when only five schools were affected? It’s the same thing parents wonder when ice on a handful of bus routes prompts a district-wide closure in the winter. The Observer has asked the superintendent’s office to explain the decision-making process.

For now, though, we appreciate that officials are looking out for the well-being of evacuees, whether they come from eastern N.C. or from vulnerable parts of our city.

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