Kingston City School District officials last week defended the district’s decision to issue a shelter-in-place for students as a tornado warning was issued at the end of the school day. The mid-afternoon storm that rolled through the Hudson Valley on Tuesday, May 15 created several tornadoes, including one in the Village of Saugerties, knocked out power across the county and resulted in three deaths.
At a school board meeting the following day, district Superintendent Paul Padalino said that parents who told students to ignore the safety measure from school administrators were sending a potentially dangerous message which could make things difficult during future emergency situations.
“I appeal to our parents: We have safety protocols in place for a reason, we do these drills for a reason, and they are not to keep your student away from you or just to do it,” said Padalino. “It’s because we’re worried about the safety of our students. We spent a lot of time and effort developing these procedures and making sure that our kids are safe. If we put into students’ minds the idea that, ‘You don’t have to listen to the adults in the building during an emergency,’ that is a scary situation for us. Because it could be something other than a tornado warning. It could be an active shooter. And if at that point a student has it in their mind that, ‘I don’t have to follow this plan because my mother or father says I do what they said and not what the building principal says,’ we have a tragedy. And we cannot have that.”
Padalino said the district’s shelter-in-place call came after the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Kingston and neighboring communities at around 2:50 p.m. on Tuesday, close to dismissal time for many of the district’s elementary schools.
“We were told ‘get to shelter’ right when we were about to start dismissing students,” Padalino said. “So our job at that point is to get our students to shelter.”
The superintendent added that some building principals asked waiting parents and bus drivers to seek shelter inside the schools.
The National Weather Service warning was lifted at 3:30 p.m., but school officials said issues with some how some parents responded to the district’s efforts to keep students safe lasted much longer.
“For a parent to tell their student, ‘No, don’t do what that building principal tells you to do, do what I tell you to do’ is a problem for us,” Padalino said. “In an emergency situation, we are to act as reasonable and prudent parents, and the safest places in the community in those situations are probably our school buildings.”
Trustee Kathy Collins backed the administration’s decision to issue the shelter-in-place directive, adding that she thought it was handled well in all affected buildings.
“As much of an inconvenience as it might have been, I just want to say I think it was the right call for our administration to do the shelter in place,” she said. “I’m thankful to our teachers and staff and drivers for keeping everybody safe and sound. It was a little big chaotic, but I’m just thankful that we made that call, and for everyone’s efforts.”
Padalino stressed that the decision to call for the shelter-in-place directive was not taken lightly.
“If the decision is made that we need to hold our buses, and we need to hold our students in our school buildings, that decision is made for a real reason,” he said. “I don’t do that without thinking about the fact that we have 6,000 students getting on … 135 different buses that travel all over the city … We don’t randomly call a shelter-in-place for nothing. We called that because we thought there was an imminent warning, and as you can see in several of our surrounding communities, there were, you know, serious issues.”
The shelter-in-place issue occurred on the same day that all seven elementary schools in the district served as polling stations for a number of propositions, school board elections and the fate of the district’s $175,032,027 budget proposal for the 2018-19 school year. There was some speculation that the storm led to a lower turnout at the polls, with 2,120 votes cast on Tuesday compared to 2,875 one year earlier. Still, the budget passed easily by a margin of 1,523-597.