By now, anyone not living under a rock knows what happened last week – because that rock would have been washed away.
Torrents of rain from Tropical Storm Imelda pummeled Fort Bend County, leading to road and school closures. Fort Bend ISD started school Thursday and announced campus closures in the afternoon, after the weather had shifted for the worse.
FBISD cancelled school on Friday, but that didn’t stop the social media backlash from frustrated parents and community members who thought the district should not have been open at all Thursday.
The district is now trying to mend trust in the wake of another major rain event in a county that has experienced several. But I’m not sure FBISD should even have to make the efforts to do so, because I don’t see a way any trust was violated.
“I want you to know that our district always puts safety at the forefront as we consider our plans for the possibility of severe weather,” Superintendent Charles Dupre wrote in a letter sent out to parents last Thursday night. “When things don’t go as smoothly as we hope, such as today, we want to recognize this in order to do better in the future.”
Some criticized the district’s decisions (or lack thereof in some cases), making their frustration known on the district’s social media posts. Students at FBISD schools remained on campus as of early Thursday afternoon, with the district later announcing all extracurricular and after-school activities had been cancelled. The call didn’t come soon enough for some parents.
“You guys dropped the ball. You should have gotten students home safely well before the situation got out of hand,” Monica Napper wrote on Facebook. “I’m so glad I knew you were going to fail. I picked my kids up from school at 11:00. It’s shameful.”
There were area power outages Thursday afternoon, while streets near Dulles High School were impassable for a time, even stranding one of my friends and her son – a Dulles student – at a gas station for several hours.
“This is a common thing with Fort Bend not making the proper calls to close the schools….do better,” Tinara Nicole wrote on Facebook.
Added Tiffany Ingram on the dismissal process, “I picked up my son from Dulles MS and had to wait over an hour for him to be checked out. The line was outside wrapped around the building. Is there a better check out process for emergencies? It was chaos there.”
According to Dupre, the decision to hold classes as scheduled on Thursday came after studying forecasts and discussions with representatives from the National Weather Service. Those talks, he said, initially indicated that the most severe weather was not predicted to impact Fort Bend County – only that there could be scattered heavy rains throughout the day. By the time the district realized how bad it had gotten around midday, he said early dismissal could have a worse impact than keeping students safe at school.
For some, it shouldn’t have even come to that.
“I ask FBISD to please be more proactive next time. It’s our children’s and staff safety that needs to be addressed, safety and lives are worth way more than tax dollars,” Michelle Cotton Kovar wrote on Facebook.
Now, I won’t pretend to understand the mindset or emotions of a parent, because I don’t have children. But oftentimes, when their child might be in danger, a parent can think of nothing else than their kid’s wellbeing.
But Fort Bend ISD deserves some slack. While there may be ways the district can streamline its decision-making process for future severe-weather events, this most recent crisis was largely unavoidable, and the frustration is somewhat misplaced.
I was paying close attention to the radar. And though I saw the forecasts of heavy rain, I saw no cause for alarm or any signs of out-of-the-ordinary conditions until about lunchtime, when I looked out my window and saw sheets of rain pouring down onto Bluebonnet Drive. Then I was essentially barricaded in my office for the rest of the day.
Here’s the thing: Weather can be finicky, especially in Texas, where we’ll have all four seasons over the course of a single day. How were we – or the district – supposed to see this magnitude of impact coming? Very few of us are trained to read weather patterns.
According to virtually every major news outlet in town, the worst effects were to be felt east of Fort Bend, closer to Houston and east Texas, and west of the county – right up until impacts were about to be felt here.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen far too many times over the last few years, Mother Nature cannot be tamed. She’ll change direction in the blink of an eye – and that’s exactly what happened here.
Within mere hours, the storms took a turn and pummeled Fort Bend, making some roads impassable for a time when parents tried to get their children home. What I take issue with is not so much parent frustration – all they want is their kids home safe.
But with district officials taking cues as to whether to cancel classes from weather experts, anger shouldn’t be directed at them.
That said, Dupre acknowledged the decision to announce that parents could pick up their children led to an unintended consequence and apologized for the frustration that was caused by the long lines experienced at many schools.
“What happened today is not ideal, but our decision-making has always been focused on the best interest of our students and families,” he wrote in the letter. “While none of us can predict the weather, we will continue to work to make future processes more efficient for all.”
Unfortunately, flooding is a way of life in Greater Houston. So while there are surely things to improve – such as more organized dismissal and more aligned communication – I would hesitate to blame FBISD.
Sometimes, you’ve just got to chalk things up to forces of nature.