Though she had apologized for the stress induced by a controversial dismissal process Wednesday, Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Terry Alban on Thursday stood by her decision to keep students in class for a full day as the remnants of Hurricane Ida moved through the region.
During the storm that dropped up to 8 inches of rain in parts of the county, some neighboring counties dismissed students early amid forecasts of the hazardous weather.
In Frederick County, however, one situation saw first responders using rafts to evacuate students off of one bus when it became stuck in floodwaters, and two other drivers made calls for assistance.
Schools were eventually closed Thursday due to the lingering effects of the storm.
Community members and parents have been vocal on social media in criticizing Alban and FCPS for not sending students home early Wednesday. On Wednesday, Board of Education member Liz Barrett called on Alban to “resign immediately,” writing to her in an email that she didn’t trust the superintendent’s ability to keep students safe.
In response, Alban said “individual board members are always entitled to their opinions.”
Alban told the News-Post on Thursday that her dismissal decision was made on the advice of first responders and emergency management personnel, who were monitoring the forecast and didn’t anticipate the severity of the storms.
Any decision to dismiss early must be made by 11 a.m., Alban said.
“It looked like there would be some rain whether we dismissed two hours early or stayed the course,” Alban said. “The very heavy, intense raining — my understanding is that [it] had not been showing up on the radar until it was almost actually on top of us.”
Buses still could have gotten caught in dangerous conditions had schools let out earlier, Alban added.
As the flash floods worsened, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office ordered FCPS buses off the roads. Children were returned to schools, where teachers — who are working without a contract as mediation with the school board continues — stayed hours after dismissal to supervise them and coordinate pick-up.
The seven elected members of the Board of Education are set to meet in closed session Friday afternoon to debrief Wednesday’s events.
One of those members is Sue Johnson, who responded to five calls for water rescues Wednesday in her role as a volunteer with the Carroll Manor Fire Company. She’s trained in swift water rescue.
Johnson was called out to assist in the rescue of the stranded school bus — which became stuck in high water near Thurmont around 3 p.m. But other responders got there first, and Johnson was diverted to a different rescue before she reached the scene.
“Everybody knew we were expecting bad weather,” Johnson said.
Starting Monday, the county’s Division of Fire and Rescue Services started making preparations, she added.
“I truly don’t think people realize the danger of moving water,” Johnson noted.
The board doesn’t make any operational decisions for the school system, Johnson pointed out, meaning they didn’t have any role in Wednesday’s planning. But she acknowledged that FCPS’ communication with parents throughout the storm could have been better, and she said she would explore options for an updated emergency alert system.
“I will expend a good deal of energy to make sure that we — as immediately as possible — have a better plan in place,” Johnson said. “I don’t ever want to have to be a responder for a school bus that’s occupied.”
Johnson said she was “disappointed in the fact that we had numerous cases of buses traveling in backed-up water.”