When asked what constitutes a school crisis, many think only of school shootings. However, non-violent crises are just as detrimental to the daily functioning of a school. For example, the water crisis that occurred last month in West Virginia affected more than a quarter-million residents in the region. Due to a chemical leak into the Elk River, water was unsafe for any consumption – including bathing or drinking – for six days. A “Do Not Use” water order forced schools to close.
Even after the Do Not Use order expired, and flushing then testing of the water supply occurred, 14 schools detected recontamination. Three of these had to close a second time to flush and safety test the water supply once again before the schools could reopen.
This, along with inclement weather, exhausted many districts’ allotted emergency days, leaving schools to cancel early dismissals and resume teaching on professional development days in order to meet the required 180 total days of instruction.
Further, schools were closed by county health departments and the West Virginia National Guard to ensure:
- staff understood and followed the proper flushing procedures to replenish their supply with safe water.
- filters were changed.
- dishes were sanitized properly.
- all prepared food was discarded.
Some schools even modified school lunch menus to serve foods that didn’t require water to prepare, such as serving chicken nuggets instead of chicken breasts. Cafeterias switched to use of packaged foods and canned vegetables and fruits when possible. When fresh produce was used, it first had to be washed with bottled water.
Instances like this non-violent crisis remind educators that various emergencies and their impact on teaching and learning are different. Fortunately, WORKS makes it easy for schools to prepare for the unexpected with model, customizable emergency response plans, emergency action plans and crisis communication tools.
These types of emergencies further emphasize the importance of swift and thorough communication with employees and the community, as well as strong working relationships with local authorities. The combination will ensure safety for students, staff and the surrounding community regardless of the crisis.