Education

When will NC schools close due to Florence? Families want to know sooner than later.

NC Governor warns residents to prepare now for Hurricane Florence

NC Governor Roy Cooper outlines preparations for Hurricane Florence during a press briefing Monday, Sept. 10, 2018.
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NC Governor Roy Cooper outlines preparations for Hurricane Florence during a press briefing Monday, Sept. 10, 2018.

Triangle school districts are monitoring the approach of Hurricane Florence as some parents and students are urging for an early announcement of when schools will close due to the weather threat.

Florence is projected make landfall in the Carolinas later this week and could bring high winds and as much as nine inches of rain to Raleigh, according to the National Weather Service. School officials said Monday that they are tracking the storm’s progress but likely won’t make any decision about school cancellations or early dismissals until it gets closer.

“We will use the most accurate information possible so we wouldn’t make any decisions this far in advance,” Lisa Luten, a Wake County school spokeswoman said Monday morning.

The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Florence could make landfall anywhere from just south of Myrtle Beach, S.C., to the Pamlico Sound in N.C. The storm could be a Category 4 when it reaches the Carolinas, NHC says.

Florence could bring hurricane force winds as far inland as the Triangle, causing concern among a number of parents and students.

“When are you going to let schools and parents know about closings this is no joke!” Kim Cardin, a Knightdale High School parent tweeted to the Wake school system Monday. “Staff and students need to be safe! Please do not wait till last minute and kids are stuck!”

Cardin’s sentiments were echoed by several other people on social media.

Wake school officials are trying to reassure people that students and staff would be safe on campus if a hurricane hits.

“Seek shelter in a strong building that can withstand hurricane winds — like a school,” Wake’s school Twitter account replied to a student about what to do when the storm arrives.

Families in Durham could find out as soon as Tuesday what’s in store for school this week.

We are preparing for the likelihood of having to close schools, reschedule extracurricular activities, and open shelters, according to Chip Sudderth, a Durham Public Schools spokesman. Sudderth said the district is expecting to make decisions on the timing by Tuesday afternoon.

In the meantime, Sudderth said Durham is encouraging families and staff to monitor the district’s website and social media. He said people are also encouraged to put together personal emergency preparedness kits (ready.gov/build-a-kit) and to sign up for personal emergency notifications at alertdurham.com.

Amid all the worry, Chapel Hill-Carrboro Superintendent Pam Baldwin sent a message Monday to staff and families assuring them that the district is preparing for Florence’s arrival.

Baldwin said all school emergency generators have been inspected and fueled. She said that schools that may be used as emergency shelters have been stocked with food and water. Sandbags are being prepared.

To help keep in touch, Baldwin encouraged staff and parents to download the district’s app, follow the district on Twitter (@CHCCS) and like the district’s Facebook page.

“Please take this situation seriously and make the necessary precautions to keep your loved ones safe,” Baldwin said in the message. “We will be back in touch if there is a need to alter our school schedule later this week.”

Time-lapse video of a NOAA Hurricane Hunter flight into Hurricane Florence on Sept. 10, 2018.

The cancellation of classes would create challenges for school districts and families. School districts build in makeup days for school closings but more are built in for winter storms than for potential late summer and fall hurricanes.

The first makeup day built in for Wake County’s traditional-calendar schools, which is the schedule used by most of the 162,000 students, is Oct. 31. The second day that could be used would be a Saturday, Oct. 13.

It’s unclear when the last time Wake County’s traditional-calendar students had to report to school on a Saturday. If used, it would be a full day of classes.

In Chapel Hill-Carrboro, schools are already supposed to open on a two-hour delay on Thursday so that staff can get training time. The district may have to change plans if schools close or dismiss early Thursday, said Jeff Nash, a district spokesman.

Using the first two makeup days for Chapel Hill-Carrboro could also be unpopular for families. The first one is Sept. 19, which coincides with the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. The next one is Nov. 21, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Johnston County school system has five weather makeup days built into the calendar but may have to regroup if multiple days are needed due to Florence, according to Crystal Roberts, a district spokeswoman.

School districts have the option of not making up a handful of school days because they have more than the state-required minimum of 1,025 hours of annual student instruction. But districts often like to hold off on using that option to see how many snow days they have first.

Cameras outside the International Space Station capture views of Hurricane Florence in the Atlantic as the station passes over the storm at 8:10 a.m. EDT Sept. 10. (No Audio)

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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