Albion Board of Education says district waited too long to make closing announcements with wind storm

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 April 2017 at 5:04 pm

This tree has toppled in front of the Albion Middle School during the powerful wind storm on March 8, which left more than 11,000 National Grid customers in Orleans County without electricity. That was about 60 percent of National Grid’s customer base in the county.

ALBION – The school district waited too long to announce school was closed for two days following the punishing wind storm on March 8, Board of Education members said on Monday.

Albion was closed on both March 9 and March 10, and put out an official announcement early each morning. Many other districts, which suffered widespread power outages and damages from the storm, put out the closing announcements the day before.

“It was obvious we were going to close,” said BOE member Linda Weller, who asked Superintendent Michael Bonnewell why an official notification didn’t go out the day before school was closed.

The wind storm knocked out power for 11,250 National Grid customers in Orleans County. Power wasn’t restored in much of Barre and Carlton for more than two days.

“It was inevitable we would be closed those two days,” said BOE member Chantelle Sacco. “We need to show our families more consideration.”

She said the district should have put out the notice the day before, to help parents plan.

“There was added stress by not cancelling sooner,” said Marlene Seielstad, the BOE member. “It was an extreme amount of stress for families, especially in Barre.”

Bonnewell said the district’s closing policy is to assess weather conditions and make a decision by 5:30 a.m.

The district has closed school five times this school year.

December 15, 2016: snowstorm

On Thursday, Dec. 15, the school put out a message at 6:15 a.m. that the school day was on a 2-hour delay “due to sudden snow band.”

At 8:12 a.m., the district sent a message that conditions had not improved as expected by forecasters and school would be closed that day.

March 8, 2017: wind storm

The district sent a message to parents at 2:03 p.m. that afterschool activities were cancelled.

The wind storm knocked down numerous trees, snapped big branches and took down wires. About 60 percent of the county didn’t have electricity. Most school districts hit by the storm announced there wouldn’t be school the following day due to power outages.

Albion waited until Thursday at 5:15 a.m. to say there wouldn’t be school. “Please be safe today!”

Holley, Medina and Kendall would announce later that day they weren’t having school on Friday, either. Lyndonville announced it would have school the next day.

On Friday, March 10, at 4:20 a.m. Albion sent notice that school was closed.

On Sunday, March 12, the district put out a message at 1:30 p.m. that electricity had been restored at the elementary school on Saturday night.

March 14-15: snowstorm

When a big snowstorm was predicted for March 14, the district announced a closing the night before, March 13, at 10:24 p.m. (There was added confusion that Time Warner posted on March 13 that Albion was closed before the district had sent official notice. Once time Warner did that, Bonnewell said the district was compelled to close. “Time Warner listed us as closed and that can’t be undone,” he said.)

The storm intensified and on Tuesday, March 14, the district sent notice at 9:08 p.m. that school would be closed the following day. In all, about two feet of snow fell over two days.

Michael Bonnewell

Board members say they have received numerous comments from the community that Albion waits too long to close school. Board members said Albion is often the last of the five school districts in Orleans County to announce it is closing.

Bonnewell said snowstorms can hit geographic areas differently. Albion sees big ranges in snowfall in many snow storms. Most of the district is in the central Orleans County towns of Carlton, Gaines, Albion and Barre.

Snow conditions can also improve – or get worse – quickly.

When he calls for a snow day, Bonnewell is up late at night and then up very early, checking weather stations, and talking with local highway superintendents, the Sheriff’s Office, State Police and the district’s transportation director.

His goal is to make a decision by 5:30 a.m.

Bonnewell said a survey of school superintendents in New York State showed that school closings are among the most stressful parts of the job, and the most emotional for a community.

He noted the district closed on five days so far, with safety of students as a priority. Two other districts in the county didn’t close on all five of those days.

“It’s very gray,” said Board member Dean Dibley. “It’s not black and white.”

David Sidari, a board member, said many school districts are closing a day before, based on weather forecasts.

“The other districts are closing too early,” Sidari. “The snowstorms hit everywhere differently.”

Sidari said the powerful wind storm was unusual, a once every 5- to 10-year event. That damage couldn’t have been predicted, he said.

National Grid also estimated on Thursday, March 9, it would have power restored in Orleans County by that night. Full restorations didn’t happen until the weekend for several thousand Grid customers in the county.

When the snow storm hit March 14-15, Seielstad said Bonnewell and the district leaders posted numerous detailed messages that were helpful to parents.

She acknowledged there were unknowns with the power restorations. She said the district, in those cases, could have sent a notice that it was waiting for more information and would keep families posted. That would have eased some of the strain during those stressful few days.

“I also heard from parents who didn’t want school to be closed,” said Board of Education member Wendy Kirby.

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