Carson High students return to school after power outage
Published 12:00 am Friday, February 1, 2013
SALISBURY — Carson High School students are back in class today after the school was closed Thursday following a storm-related power outage.
But the school’s principal said the closure had less to do with the outage and more to do with the way parents and the Post reacted.
According to school system spokeswoman Rita Foil, a tree that fell across power lines during Wednesday night’s severe storms knocked out the school’s electricity. One emergency scanner report indicated that the power may have been out as early as 10 p.m.
Principal Kelly Withers said she was at the school around that time and everything was fine. She said the outage was not discovered until the following morning when custodial staff arrived.
The electricity was restored around 11 a.m. Thursday, Foil said, nearly three hours after students were sent home.
Initially, Withers said, the school was going to hold classes because it can still operate when the power is out.
“We have generators that run emergency lighting,” Withers said. “Our facilities were operational, as far as the restrooms. We had a plan for lunch.”
She said the schools follow a certain protocol when they lose power. After a school receives a report from maintenance and notifies the central office, Rowan-Salisbury’s assistant superintendent of operations comes out to assess the situation.
In the case of Carson High, Withers said they had determined that the school could stay open. If electricity wasn’t restored in time to prepare hot lunches for the students, the school could make or bring in deli-style sandwiches, she said.
“We would not close school just for a power outage,” Withers said.
The school was closed, she said, “because the Salisbury Post said it was going to be.”
The Post did not report that Carson was closing until around 8:20 a.m., though, after the school system gave parents the official word that class was dismissed “due to a power outage.” News staff had attempted to contact school officials earlier.
As they arrived at school Thursday morning, students began to contact parents about the power outage. Staff members at the Post then received calls from some of those parents and heard scanner reports about the power outage and a possible natural gas leak at the school.
Around 7:20 a.m., the Post reported on its website that power was out and officials were “considering closing school.”
“We did everything we could to contact school officials before posting anything, but kids were standing around in a dark school, and parents were calling us,” said Salisbury Post Editor Elizabeth Cook. “We went with the information we had from parents and the police monitor. Apparently that snowballed.”
Withers said she had not actually considered closing at that time, but parents began showing up at the school and telling the staff to send their children home, creating a “panic.”
Around 8:10 a.m., Rowan-Salisbury Schools contacted parents through Connect-ED to let them know they were doing just that.
“This is Rita Foil with an emergency message from Carson Principal Kelly Withers, to let you know that school is being dismissed due to a power outage including no phone service,” the Connect-ED message said.
Withers said she planned to send out another message Thursday night to tell parents what happened and that the power has been restored. She also said she would stress the importance of waiting on official word from the school, rather than text messages from students.
“Carson High School has 1,150 kids, and a large number of them have cell phones,” Withers said. “Students often do not accurately know information as it is occurring, and what they are texting out may not be a picture of what actually occurring.”
She said it’s important to stay calm in situations like this, to allow the administration to make decisions while keeping lines of communication open.
“When we’re trying to get in touch with the central office to make those calls, it’s essential that those lines stay open,” Withers said.
A program on campus safety that was to be held at Carson later Thursday was also canceled, even though electricity came back to the school at 11 a.m.
Just as power was about to be restored at the school earlier in the morning, an automobile accident in the Bostian Heights community caused “further issues,” Foil said.
Duke Energy apparently diverted some workers to the accident, Withers said, which had taken down power lines in the area of N.C. 152 and Old Concord Road. An N.C. Highway Patrol trooper who investigated the wreck said the car downed a power pole, but that only affected a traffic signal.
According to Duke Energy’s website, Rowan had 1,317 Duke customers without power at 10:15 a.m. Thursday, the third-highest number of any county in the state.