Wake, Durham schools to close early Thursday, all day Friday for Hurricane Florence

Watch this clip of Hurricane Florence’s core

Hurricane Florence gains strength in the Atlantic as it moves toward the southeast coast
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Hurricane Florence gains strength in the Atlantic as it moves toward the southeast coast

Triangle school districts will be closed Friday and either have no school or only a half day of classes on Thursday because of the impending arrival of Hurricane Florence.

School districts across the Triangle announced Tuesday schedule changes due to Florence, which is projected by the National Weather Service to reach landfall Thursday evening or early Friday morning and bring heavy winds and 5 to 10 inches of rain to Raleigh.

The Wake County school system will send students home 2.5 hours early on Thursday and close on Friday. Durham Public Schools will dismiss student three hours early on Thursday and close Friday.

The Orange County school system and Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools will close Thursday and Friday. Johnston County schools will send students home two hours early Wednesday in addition to closing Thursday and Friday.

School officials said they’d continue to monitor the situation in case any additional schedule changes are needed.

“The safety of our students, parents and staff remains our top priority,” Wake said in its announcement Tuesday.

The closing of school also came with news of when Wake’s 187 schools will make up the lost day of classes. Traditional-calendar schools, which educate the majority of students, will have classes Oct. 31.

Other makeup days are Sept. 24 for the modified-calendar schools, Sept. 22 for tracks 2, 3 and 4 at multi-track year-round schools and Oct. 17 for Barwell Road and Walnut Creek elementary schools.

The two single-gender leadership academies will have classes Sept. 21. Wake STEM Early College, Vernon Malone Career and College Academy, Wake Early College of Health Sciences and North Wake College and Career Academy will have classes Oct. 4.

Carroll and East Millbrook middle schools and East Garner Elementary School will have classes Nov. 20. Fox Road Elementary will have classes Sept. 28.

The announcement was made after some Wake parents, teachers and students complained that they won’t have enough time to prepare for Hurricane Florence unless the district made a decision soon to cancel classes. Complaints mounted before Wake gave the news.

“Please keep in mind that delaying the decision to close schools will have huge impacts on folks who feel like they need to be out of their house when Florence hits,” Danny Muller, a Cary parent, tweeted to the school system Tuesday. “Waiting until the last minute will cause traffic jams and create safety issues on the roads.”s

Statewide, 34 school districts and five charter schools have reported they’ll close due to Florence, according to State Superintendent Mark Johnson’s website.

Potential weather emergencies such as the threat of snow typically leads to tweets, at times full of exaggeration and bluster, from students begging for Wake to close. But with what weather officials say is an “extremely dangerous” and “life-threatening” hurricane on the way, parents and teachers are joining in the calls for school closings.

“Please consider calling school closings early enough so that the teachers have time to prepare our houses and take care of our families,” Katy Thornberry, a teacher, tweeted to Wake on Monday. “I love my school family and my school kids but my other family needs me sooner rather than later. Please.”

Evacuations are on the minds of some people waiting to hear when Wake will close schools.

“Please call the days for the hurricane!” Ashley Becker tweeted to Wake on Tuesday. “My husband and I are both teachers and our closest family to evacuate to is 13 hours away. Please think of the people who are trying to evacuate timely and safely!”

While Wake school leaders considered their options, the district’s technology department advised schools to take steps to deal with potential flooding, including relocating some equipment. One of the schools that moved equipment is Vernon Malone, a high school on South Wilmington Street in South Raleigh.

VIDEO: Ashlie Thompson, principal of the Vernon Malone College and Career Academy in Raleigh, talks about the damage left behind by Hurricane Matthew and the efforts to reopen the high school.

Hurricane Matthew caused extensive flood damage to Vernon Malone in 2016, requiring Wake to relocate students to other sites for three months while the campus was renovated. The school, which is a partnership with Wake Technical Community College, has a large amount of expensive equipment to help train students to work in different jobs after graduation.

While the community waited on Wake’s decision, some people took to watching the tweets from students begging for classes to be canceled.

“Massive amounts of tweets directed towards @WCPSS asking about school closing in 3...2...1...” Justin Smith, a Wake teacher, tweeted Monday.

Some students tweeted that if Wake didn’t act that they’d “sue yall” and that students could “end up dying.” Some tweets were less over the top.

“This isn’t suppose to come off as sassy but please cancel as soon as possible,” Hannah Kelly, a Middle Creek High School student, tweeted to Wake on Monday. “I drive 25 minutes to school and back every day because wake county won’t bus me to my school and all of the gas is gone. I need to save as much as possible. Please just consider when deciding!”

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

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