O'Neill Post Storm Letter.pdf
Dear Parent, Guardian, Community member,
On behalf of the West Orange Board of Education, administration, faculty and staff we express our concern for all who suffered damage or loss during Hurricane Sandy or the nor’easter a few days later. The West Orange Public Schools, like the community at large, went through some days of very difficult recovery. We did not experience the long term loss some of you did; and want to assure you that we are eager to help, in any way we can, those who continue to be in need.
I extend my apology that our website, and phone lines, were not operative during Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent nor’easter. We were in contact with the service providers continually; unfortunately the problems were not of our making and could not be fixed locally.
We were impacted by two significant factors:
· Trees fell on and damaged the district’s fiber lines; it took many days to get this repaired.
· The significant damage done to the Verizon Hub in lower Manhattan was the root of our problem; but it was also traced to some of the damage done in Jersey City.
To ensure more effective and consistent communication in similar circumstances in the future we want you to know the following:
· We are exploring alternate ways to keep the district’s website up and running in an emergency so we can post news and updates regularly.
· We are exploring alternate third parties we can use to get messages out to all school families and faculty/staff.
· When West Orange is impacted by a storm you should know that the high school serves as a shelter for the community and it is our intention to provide multiple services as meets the needs of residents. (There were a few days this year that Liberty Middle School had power and heat when the High School did not so Liberty was used as the shelter).
· In the future, if one of our schools has power, and residents do not, we will open the school for warmth, showers, charging stations and Internet access as available. Unfortunately, due to our own problems we could NOT provide those services this time.
There are a number of administrative and bookkeeping details including the issue of the school calendar that need to be addressed as a result of missed days:
· NJ students are required to attend school 180 days. West Orange has traditionally only built in three additional student days. Therefore, since we had a storm that kept us out of school for
six days, we are now over the amount of days the district can close for emergency reasons and need to find days to add to the school calendar to make up the difference.
· Where we stand. We lost six days due to Hurricane Sandy. By having school when it was originally not scheduled on Thursday and Friday November 8 and 9 we made up two of the days; we have three days built into the calendar which would normally mean we only have one additional day to make up. Unfortunately, the long range forecast for the winter is much more severe weather than last year. The administration will review the calendar and possible make up dates for school, and make a recommendation to the board in December. The Board will review the recommendation, and modify or approve it so the calendar is adjusted for the remainder of the school year.
School Attendance November 8 & 9
· The district will deal with absences on November 8 and 9 on an individual basis. You should document the reason your child was not in school those two days: previously planned vacation; no heat in house had to move in with relatives/friends out of town; illness or any other reason.
· If a child exceeds the number of unexcused absences for the year, we will revisit the reasons the student missed on these two days at the end of the year and make individual determinations about each case. I can assure you our intent is to be liberal in granting excused absences on those days, which were obviously a challenge for a variety of reasons, and we understand that is the case. We also believe that it is important for students to be in school whenever possible so we do not plan to excuse all absences, without regard to reason, for those two days.
· Many students have medications in the nurse’s office in your child’s school. If the medication being stored required refrigeration it needs to be replaced. All of our buildings lost power during the storm and we do not want to take a chance that the medication you left with the school nurse is no longer good.
· As you can tell from our recent experience with Hurricane Sandy communication is extremely important; and the more ways we have of contacting you the more likely you will hear from us when normal means of communication are not available.
· School Messenger is our way of communicating during the school year and we found it helpful when other means of communication were not available; but we also learned that many families had not updated their information and consequently did not hear from us.
· We are going to send you a hard copy letter in the mail. Each family will have their own code which you can use to enter contact information. You can enter: home phone, cell phone, email, text or all of the above. We encourage you to enter information that allows us to contact you multiple ways. (Si usted prefiere recibir los anuncios en español, por favor dejenos saber y nosotros haremos los arreglos necesarios.) Thank you for your attention to this important issue.
· Power and heat did not return to all of our schools at the same time. Consequently it was difficult for us to plan days in advance when schools could all open the same day. Fortunately, we were able to have all schools the same day on Monday, November 12.
· Some streets were cleared much more quickly than others. We have to make a determination based on what is best for most students; we cannot make a decision based on the worst streets or the last to be cleared.
· Gas, just as there were long lines of cars for gas, we were stretched very thin and were on the brink of not having sufficient gas for our buses to transport our students; therefore, we cancelled pre-school which requires multiple trips each day. After much effort FEMA did bring us thousands of gallons of gasoline on Friday November 9 and were able to resume regular schedules for all programs on Monday, November 12.
We appreciate your cooperation and understanding and we will keep you posted as we make progress in enhancing our methods of communicating with you. If nothing else, please make an effort to update your School Messenger contact information.
On behalf of the Board of Education and the District,
Jim O’Neill, Interim Superintendent