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Southwest Orange Sunday, May 26, 2019 6 months ago

Schools need 30/30 drills, better storm preparations, says parent

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A Keene’s Crossing parent is calling out what she sees as a lack of efficient preparation in order to push the district to improve school operations during 30/30s.
by: Gabby Baquero News Editor

A parent of a Keene’s Crossing Elementary School student was left appalled after watching staff at her child’s school handle a 30/30 lockdown Monday, May 13.

Valerie Mihalek, a recent transplant from New York, said she and her husband had planned to have lunch that day with their daughter, but were instead met by chaos that ensued shortly after the school went into a 30/30 lockdown at 11:30 a.m.

Mihalek, a former teacher, described the situation she observed during the nearly three-hour lockdown in a Facebook post and said nearly half the school’s students were stuck in portables when the 30/30 was called, causing them to miss their lunch period. 

Keene’s Crossing has 1,581 enrolled students and 39 portables.

Mihalek said she offered to help school staff transport lunches during the thunderstorm.

“So that’s how I got to see all that I saw,” Mihalek said. “And I was a teacher in Long Island, New York, not far from Ground Zero, and Monday reminded me of 9/11 in that school because of the chaos. And to me, this all could be prevented because 30/30s are a way of life here in Florida. I’m from the north, and I’ve only been here five months, but the problem from what I’ve observed that day is not the 30/30. It’s No. 1, the overcrowding, No. 2, the portables, and the No. 3, a total lack of leadership on that day.”

Mihalek said she has reached out to several school officials, including School Board Member Pam Gould and Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins.

“Schools have active-shooter drills and fire drills, but there should also be drills for 30/30 — particularly 30/30s in the portables that could help school staff,” she said. “I felt like the staff was in a reactionary mode and almost in a state of panic about how they were going to get to the kids and how they were going to get them their food. ... And I thought that approach was very ineffective.”

Mihalek added some students had been confined to their portables since 10:30 a.m. that morning and didn’t get their lunches until about 1:30 p.m. 

“I was running from portable to portable with some of the staff, and they were doing the best they could under very difficult circumstances, but to see the kids scared, tired, restless and hungry was very troubling to me,” she said. “I think all of this can be prevented with better planning.”

She also questioned why the portables hadn’t been evacuated after hearing from other parents that principals from other schools had evacuated them before the storm rolled in, anticipating that the storm may interrupt lunchtime.

According to OCPS Media Relations Director Shari Bobinski, school principals also have the authority to call students inside portables back into the main school building even if a 30/30 is in effect and added that the district’s portables can withstand 100-mph winds.

In her post, Mihalek said she also noticed the portables did not have lightning rods, but Bobinski said they are equipped with storm-safety features.

“There is one grounding rod attached to each portable,” Bobinski said. “The portables are designed, constructed and installed to comply with Florida Building Code. There’s no code requirement for the installation of lightning rods on portables. The portables are certified as safe to occupy during lightning and thunderstorms.”

Gould said she did not hear from other parents about the incident.

“If it had been that bad, I would think that I would have heard from other parents who have my cellphone number,” Gould said. “But they may not have been there, and (Valerie) might have been the only parent there. But I trust the leadership at our schools to support the kids the way they need.”

Gould said a 30/30 lockdown that takes place during lunchtime does create an additional challenge and may result in delayed lunches, particularly if students are in portables. However, the common request to eliminate portables from their schools is not feasible, she said.

“We’re building as fast as we can,” she said. “And we’ve moved up the timeline for numerous schools. ... And I’m willing to listen to any innovative ways, but the idea of ‘absolutely no portables’ is just not realistic.” 

Gabby is the news editor for the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer newspapers. Have a story tip? Contact her at (352) 448-5856 or at [email protected]....

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