Schools may revamp notifications

Officials at School District 51 will consider improving communications to parents during emergencies after students at Tope Elementary School were evacuated twice this week.

Students boarded buses to West Middle School on Tuesday after the gas leak and explosion in the area of Seventh Street and Orchard Avenue. Shortly after school started on Friday, students again were evacuated to the middle school as a precautionary measure after someone reported smelling gas in the area.

District 51 spokeswoman Christy McGee said this week’s incidents are prompting school officials to take another look at their notification options.

“Do we need a district-wide auto dialer?” McGee said. “We have a student information database, how can we use it? Right now, the tools that we have, they’re free.”

District 51 notified parents of the evacuations via its Facebook page, the district’s website, emails and Parent Bridge, a website for parents of students. McGee said the district also relies on local media to get out important, emergency announcements. Parents can also sign up to receive emergency alerts through the city, but the district doesn’t know how many parents had voluntarily signed on for that service. For example, if some parents still had not received notification that students had been evacuated and needed to be picked up, the district officials started calling parents, McGee said.

But, in the event of an emergency, district officials cannot physically call all students’ parents.

Parent Ed Estes said he learned of Tope Elementary’s evacuation on Tuesday from a ticker on a television at St. Mary’s Hospital while his wife was recovering after giving birth to their son.

On Friday, he learned of the evacuation from a radio program.

“I would have been better to have a Reverse 911 call,” he said Friday, while retrieving his son, first-grader Rylin.

Parent Sarah Queen said she was happy with Tope’s response, and she didn’t mind retrieving her first-grade daughter, Jordan, on Friday. Friday’s evacuation routine went smoother than Tuesday’s, she said.

“They had it down to a science,” Sarah Queen said. “I think people are more glad that they are paying attention.”

Tope Elementary will be open from 8 to 10 a.m. today for parents to collect belongings that may have been left behind in Friday’s evacuation.


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