ATLsuper Blog

Keeping APS Safe in Irma Aftermath

District focused on safe return of students & staff to school

UPDATE (6:30 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 14): We are open for business today!

Atlanta Public Schools will follow a normal operating schedule now that our operations team has completed a full review of our facilities, buses, technology, and nutrition services in the wake of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irma. Power has been restored to all APS school campuses, including M. Agnes Jones Elementary School where power was restored overnight.

Because many buildings were without power, an alternate menu may be provided for students for breakfast and lunch for the next several days. Also, students may experience delays in bus routes due to driver staffing shortages.

We appreciate the patience our families have shown as we have worked to ensure a safe environment for all of our students and staff. We look forward to welcoming everyone back today!

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UPDATE (7:45 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 13): Three words … We Are Back!

Thanks to the hard work of our Atlanta Public Schools Operations team and crews from Georgia Power, our schools are back on-line. Additionally, now that our school buildings are safe and many of the hazards in our neighborhoods – downed power lines, hanging tree branches, obstructed streets and sidewalks, and inoperable traffic signals – have been addressed, I believe it is time for us to get our kids, teachers and administrators back in their classrooms and offices.

 I am happy to report that APS will be back open for business, bright and early Thursday morning! This includes after-school programs and extracurricular activities as well. We realize that there may be a number of school-based employees, including teachers, who may not be able to report for duty. So, as has been the case throughout this week, we are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach. Central office administrators and support staff will be ready to fill in for school-based employees when necessary.

 Currently, power has been restored to nearly all APS school campuses. There are four remaining schools without power that we expect to have back online tonight. APS operations staff are monitoring the power situation at these locations and will inform parents if school is in session starting at 5 am tomorrow.

 Because many buildings were without power, an alternate menu may be provided for students for breakfast and lunch for the next several days. Also, students may experience delays in bus routes due to driver staffing shortages.

 We appreciate the patience our families have shown as we have worked to ensure a safe environment for all of our students and staff. We look forward to welcoming everyone back tomorrow!

See you in the morning!

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 UPDATE (9 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 12): As superintendent, I spent most of today assessing the safety conditions for our students and staff, having personally canvassed every cluster in Atlanta Public Schools. I am concerned with the number of downed power lines, hanging tree branches, obstructed sidewalks and inoperable traffic signals. While the threat of severe weather has subsided, many of our schools remain without power, and concerns about more power outages continue.

I cannot put it any more simple than this: It’s not safe!

Our APS operations team continues to work closely with power crews to bring affected schools back on-line; however, many of our employees are reporting their own power has yet to be restored, making it difficult to report to work from various counties within the region.

Therefore, we have decided to close school campuses and administrative offices for Wednesday, Sept. 13, to keep our families and employees safe. This decision extends to all afterschool programs and extracurricular activities.

This decision was the result of a huge APS team effort, tons of analysis and brutal but thorough discussions!

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With high sustained winds, gusts and heavy rains, Irma left its impact on Atlanta Public Schools, including knocking out power in 31 of our schools, damaging some perishable food supplies and limiting our ability to safely transport students to and from school.

Working in coordination with city, weather and other government officials amid an abundance of adverse conditions, we decided to close APS schools for a second day. Our biggest concern was having sufficient power/electricity and resources for our schools in the immediate aftermath of Irma. Additionally, we had to make a decision in a timely fashion to get our message out to about 50,000 households. At the time we and many other school districts decided to close schools, weather forecasts continued to predict exceptionally high winds and other extreme weather which would limit our outreach ability.

(Please see my previous blog here for the rationale and research about closing schools amid such weather.)

Even in the wake of a storm, we have to be cognizant of remaining dangers of returning to school too quickly. Debris and continued bad weather create dangerous conditions for safe bus travel and for children walking to and from school. Emergency crews and weather service teams continue to work at capacity, with their resources stretched and strained even now.

Safety ALWAYS comes first.

During the storm, 31 of our schools – more than a third of APS campuses – were without power.

While the storm may not be around us right now, we are dealing with the aftermath. Even at mid-morning on Tuesday, our own teams for school safety, operations, facilities, nutrition and transportation continued to assess the full impact of Irma upon the school district. Our schools are not safe when we do not know the full status of school conditions. I cannot thank Larry Hoskins, our Chief Operations Officer, and his teams enough for being so responsive before, during and after the storm.

As we continue to assess damages and other issues, we know that at least a dozen of our schools still did not have power as of this morning. Many do not have Internet access. With the power being out for so long, we are worried about food safety such as frozen food staying frozen and milk and other perishables staying fresh.

We have to make sure all of our emergency resources are available and that we can maintain proper school protocols.

We still have a lot of challenges. But my colleagues and I are working around the clock – restoring power and Internet, replenishing food supplies, clearing debris and repairing damages – so our beautiful children and wonderful educators and staff can return to safe and clean schools.

Keep following me on Twitter @CarstarphenMJ and our web site at www.atlantapublicschools.us for updates.

In the meantime – Keep safe!

#SafetyFirst

#Irma2017