Some Wake County parents are upset that the Wake County school system waited so long to announce that students would be sent home early on Monday due to the forecast of mid-afternoon snow.
The school system announced on social media at 10:25 a..m. that schools would close three hours early — less than an hour before many high schools and middle schools would close under the early dismissal. School officials say staff will stay with any students who aren't riding the bus and whose parents can't pick them up early.
Wake doesn't want a repeat of what happened in January 2005 when an unexpected early dismissal and a half-inch of ice resulted in snarled roads and thousands of students spending the night stuck at school.
"Parents don’t have to rush and risk their safety," said Lisa Luten," a Wake County schools spokeswoman. "Kids will be with adults until their parents arrive. "
The early dismissal was cheered by students, who had been asking on social media all morning for schools to close early, especially after neighboring districts announced they'd dismiss early. Durham schools announced an early dismissal before 9 a.m.
But the early release drew frustration from some parents that it didn't come with enough warning. Some parents complained that they didn't get phone messages until shortly before dismissal time.
"Hard too as I have to pick up kids in 35 minutes (11:15) and my workplace is 30 minutes away, if traffic is behaving.," tweeted Kelly Vogel, a Wake County parent. "Hardly any time to shut the computer down and inform my supervisor. In general, this late notice is hard for people who work far across the Triangle."
Luten said school officials didn't get confirmation that there would be snow in Wake until receiving an update at 8 a.m. Monday from the National Weather Service. She said it then took time to confirm whether the transportation department would be able to handle the early dismissal and to also check with individual schools about any off-campus trips.
Wake operates a three-tier bus system, meaning school times are staggered to give bus drivers enough time to serve multiple schools in the morning and afternoon.
Luten said the news about the early dismissal went out first on social media because it's the fastest way to get the information to families.
Wake also uses a communication system called SchoolMessenger that allows parents to get updates via phone calls, text messages and email. But Luten said it takes time to record the SchoolMessenger message, both in English and Spanish, and to upload it in the system.
Luten said that it also takes time for SchoolMessenger to deliver the messages to all the users. She said the system made 293,000 telephone calls to parents.
The good news for Wake families is that they won't have to make up Monday's lost time unless there are several more snow days that jeopardize the district's ability to meet the state requirement of at least 1,025 hours of annual instruction.