By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald
The Killeen Independent School District operated as normal on Wednesday despite the rolling blackouts imposed to deal with the severe winter weather and subsequent electricity overloads throughout Central Texas.
Most campuses within KISD were reportedly impacted in some form after Oncor Electric Delivery issued controlled outages throughout the area at the direction of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
But after a few campuses reported substantially longer periods of outages than others, some are wondering if classroom conditions deteriorated to unsafe levels.
At Iduma Elementary in Killeen, one person reported students sitting in frigid classrooms for close to five hours and using restrooms by the light of their teachers' cell phones.
Such details were offered by a source who asked to remain anonymous, but who had two relatives working at the school. The individual said students were not able to wash their hands for most of the morning due to sensors on sinks being down. They added that parents were not made aware of the extent of the problem, and the school should have dismissed early or more proactive measures taken.
"I think the school system does a great job overall, but not in this instance," the man said. "They have makeup days available to them. They sent out notices to parents letting them know their kids are OK, but how do they really know they're OK sitting here from around 7 in the morning or so to noon or after in 40-something degree classrooms."
KISD spokeswoman Leslie Gilmore confirmed Iduma was one of the schools affected more severely than others by the outages. She said an alert call was sent out to parents. Parents of Shoemaker High School students also received an alert call due to the longer periods of outages.
Gilmore stressed that complications involved with an early release - especially in such cold weather - could have presented a larger safety threat than keeping school on schedule and waiting for power to be restored.
"It is very difficult to dismiss early," Gilmore said. "We cannot send kids home early unless parents come to school and sign them out. It is a safety factor. If we dismiss early, the buses come early and we are putting kids out who may not have parents at home or can't be met at bus stops. We may not be guaranteeing that they have supervision."
Gilmore added that school district officials were in contact with the Oncor substation engineer throughout the morning. Once the alert calls went out, parents were told they were free to pick up their children without the absences counting against them.
Gilmore said she could not confirm specific reports about dark bathrooms or the temperatures inside classrooms.
"It (the blackouts) was something we had to deal with, but we have emergency plans in place for whenever a power outage occurs and the procedures were followed," Gilmore said. "For us the most important thing is to make sure kids are safe, and we cannot dismiss kids without individually handing them over to their parents. I think the schools and staff did an amazing job yesterday making sure the students whose parents didn't pick them up were supervised, fed, safe and warm."
Besides Shoemaker and Iduma, Harker Heights Elementary also reportedly experienced more lengthy outages than other schools. In that instance, however, an alert call was not issued to parents due to Oncor reporting around 9 a.m. that power would soon be returning, Gilmore said.
That fact did not sit well with Wendy Stapler, who said she only learned at the end of the day that her two children had been sitting in cold classrooms for much of the morning.
"I love the faculty there," Stapler said. "The teachers and principals are awesome and were just going with what they were told to do, but I think they should have released school for the day."
Oncor area manager Eddie Ferguson confirmed that certain customers saw more power curtailments than others on Wednesday. According to Ferguson, Oncor codes customers according to their function, and those that are considered critical - such as hospitals or police departments - are not included in the controlled outages.
"If you had a school close to a hospital or fire station, they may not have seen any curtailment activity," Ferguson said.
Contact Andy Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468. Follow him on Twitter at KHDeducation.