Scott Lay: Decisions on school power outage days not taken lightly
California has entered the new world of prescribed power outages with a recent example lasting three days for many schools. For those of you that have students in our local schools you know that means possible school closures and the resulting scramble to find childcare for your student.
It seems just a short time ago when we only had to worry about closure due to snow. How things have changed in the Golden State.
The decision to close or remain open at schools due to loss of power is one that is not taken lightly by our school administrators and governing boards. This process starts the moment we receive word that a power outage is possible. The Nevada County Office of Emergency Services is the primary conduit for information coming to our schools. They keep my director of school safety constantly updated to what may be happening. She in turn relays this information to all the schools (traditional, charter, or private) so they can begin the preparation for possible closures.
Schools then use the following points to help guide them in their closure procedure if they lose power:
Classroom and campus lighting — is it sufficient for learning and safe for student and staff movement?
Are phone lines available for emergency calls?
Do all alert/alarm systems have backup power?
Is there ample water supply for restrooms and hand washing?
Can the nutritional needs of students be met (breakfast/lunch programs)?
Is there adequate staffing levels?
On the morning of a possible power loss event the district superintendents, myself, the director of school safety, and related school service personnel hold a 5:30 a.m. conference call to get the latest information on what may happen that day. Armed with that information, each district will make the decision on what they believe to be best for their students using the above points. Charter schools and private schools are also updated with the information so they can make their decisions as well.
Each school leader and governing board knows this will impact over 11,000 students and families in our county. It is a decision that is not made lightly. At that point an “all call” message is sent out to the school’s population to let them know what is happening. We also inform our local media outlets so they can help spread the word. In rare cases, such as the school closures for Oct. 10, enough information was available to make the decision to close school the following day.
As parents it is important to make sure the schools have updated contact information, including multiple phone numbers if you have them, so you can get the latest information from your school. Unfortunately, recent power outages may not be the last we see this fall.
As we move forward schools may find it necessary to build more “power outage” days into their school calendars to accommodate our new normal in California.
Scott Lay is the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools.
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