Oklahoma officials are kicking around the idea of instituting “tornado days” in which classes would be called off when the threat of tornadoes is unusually high, but school and weather officials in Kansas think the idea could cause more problems than it solves.
Nine schoolchildren were killed in the May 20, 2013, tornado that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, including seven at Plaza Towers Elementary School. It was the first tornado death at school during a school day in that state since 1930, said Harold Brooks, a research scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma.
Schools in Mississippi and Alabama have tornado day policies in place, The Wichita Eagle reported, but Kansas school officials said there are several reasons why that wouldn’t work in their state.
“We’ve had parents driving to school during tornado warnings to pick up their kids,” said Susan Arensman, spokeswoman for Wichita’s public schools. “Now you’re out driving around in weather where you shouldn’t be.”
Most schools in the district have safe rooms for use by students and staff when violent weather threatens, and there are plans for safe rooms to be added to the few schools in the district that don’t have them.
Once the doors to the safe rooms close, they’re not opened until a warning has expired or been canceled, Arensman said. They’re not opened even for parents who come to get their children, she said.
If students were let out of classes on a day promising the threat of severe weather, “Would they know where to go? Would they know what to do?” she said.
But Scott Curl, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Norman, Oklahoma, branch, said the Moore death toll could have been greater if parents had not come to pick up their children before the tornado struck.
“Even the two schools that got hit, a lot of students had left,” Curl said. Had they not, he said, many more of them may have died.
Many students in southwest Kansas would be placed in greater danger if their school districts declared a tornado day and didn’t hold classes because a large number live in mobile homes, said Larry Ruthi, meteorologist in the weather service’s Dodge City bureau.
“In western Kansas, we would end up with teenagers at home alone, playing video games and not paying attention to the weather,” Ruthi said.
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