eye on the storm

Durham superintendent apologizes after students sent to school during tornado warnings

Eye On The Storm

The superintendent of Durham Public Schools and school board members are apologizing for the decision to open schools Monday.

During Thursday night’s school board meeting, DPS superintendent Dr. Pascal Mubenga said the decision was a tough one. At least one board member called it a mistake.

“I’m sorry, and I own it,” Mubenga said.

Heavy rain from Florence produced flash flooding and two tornado warnings Monday morning in Durham County, according to the National Weather Service.

However, Aaron Beaulieu, the chief operating officer for DPS, said the weather was more severe than forecasted. 

Beaulieu said the first bus picks up students at 5:25 a.m., so a decision needed to by made by 5 a.m. Crews examining the roads felt things were safe at that time.

“Roads were wet, but not something that would prohibit buses from picking up or delivering students,” Beaulieu said.

Beaulieu said the rain intensified after 6 a.m. 

According to the NWS, a flash flood warning was issued at 5:13 a.m. Monday, with more issued throughout the morning. The first tornado warning for Durham was issued at 7:32 a.m., and then a second was issued at 8:15 a.m, according to the NWS.

After the second tornado warning, Beaulieu said the decision was made to continue with buses and shelter in place.

“I regret the conditions became such that for a time period we were not able to have safe conditions for the operation of school,” Beaulieu said.

Viewers sent CBS 17 a photo of a DPS bus trying to navigate around floodwater. On Facebook, parents called the district’s decision “awful” and “dumb.”

“If they’re having problems with flooding in the streets and stuff, then yeah, they should have stayed home,” said Daniel Allen, whose step-daughter attends DPS.

On Thursday, board members praised bus drivers for getting every student to school safely, but also promised to re-evaluate how the district decides if they should close schools.

“We got it wrong. We hear you and we’re going to change what we’re doing going forward,” said board member Natalie Beyer.

Mubenga said he hopes to present adjustment to the district’s current inclement weather plan, including lessons learned from Monday, to board members next month.

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