Dallas school officials say that for the most part safety procedures during Tuesday’s severe weather went smoothly. No staff or children were injured. But KERA has heard from some parents who say they panicked after their schools told them to pick up their children in the midst of the storm.
Around 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, as tornadoes were touching down across North Texas, Nikki Rosen received an email from Hexter Elementary in Dallas. She was told the after-school program that usually cares for her son until 6:00 p.m. had been cancelled. The email says she needed to immediately come to the school and pick up eight-year old Isaac.
Rosen says she began to panic.
Rosen: Where my son’s father was they were still having tornado warnings. They were still going down into the basement in the office building. They made it seem so imperative we all rushed down there. I spent a good 30 minutes out of my work day on the phone to find a parent to pick up my child because it wasn’t safe for his dad to go pick him up and I wasn’t able to leave work.
At about the same time- 3:15 p.m. - the mother of a six-year old at Dallas’ Lakewood Elementary had a similar experience. Leslie Spradlin says she received a call from a Lakewood teacher saying the after- school program was cancelled and she needed to pick up her daughter immediately.
Spradlin: I said, “Well, I’m in Irving and its pouring down rain.” She said, “Well, perhaps your husband can do it.” And I said, “I’m going to have to call and see." And she said, “Well, your daughter will be out on the sidewalk." And I was like, OK!
In spite of tornadoes in the area and a blinding rain, Leslie Spradlin says her husband began driving to Dallas’ Lakewood Elementary from Richardson. She also jumped into her car to make the 40-minute drive from Irving.
Spradlin: I was out driving in it trying to get to her because I didn’t want her out standing on the sidewalk.
Dahlander: No principal or teacher would do that.
DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander says the district wasn’t aware schools had made these calls requesting “immediate pick-up.”
And Dahlander says that while the district told principals after-school activities were cancelled, the district never intentionally cancelled the after-school care.
Dahlander: When we were cancelling the after school activities, what we were really talking about were activities such as athletic events and adult basic education classes. We were trying to keep people off the roads. After school care taking place in some of those schools unfortunately got roped into that.
Dahlander says it was a miscommunication and he believes what happened to these mothers was rare, though both say they know of other parents who had the same unnerving experience.
Dahlander says DISD is reviewing its communications. Rosen and Spradlin hope the review will result in a DISD commitment to leave the after-care program in place even when severe weather barrels through.
DISD says it sent an automated phone message to all parents saying as a safety precaution children would be kept at their schools until 4:15.
Some parents we talked to say they didn’t receive that call.