CMS schools stay closed Friday, with power out and trees down after tropical storm

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will remain closed Friday, after Tropical Storm Michael downed trees and knocked out power Thursday afternoon.

“Our community has been hit hard by high winds, heavy rain, downed trees and power lines from Hurricane Michael,” the district said in a statement sent about 6:30 pm. “According to Duke Energy officials, 32 schools in neighborhoods across the district and nearly 82,000 residents across our community are without lights, refrigeration, heating and cooling due to power loss.”

CMS has now lost five days of class to tropical storms, with three days of closings in the lead-up and aftermath of Florence. Between scheduled days off and weather closings, CMS students have had only three uninterrupted weeks of class since the year began Aug. 27.

CMS weather closings affect tens of thousands of families — not just students, parents and employees, but child-care centers and nonprofit groups that tie their schedules to CMS.

“CMS understands that school closings can be frustrating for everyone as work schedules, child care, transportation and other plans are disrupted,” the Thursday evening statement says. “But the most important responsibility we have when it comes to our kids is to keep them safe from harm.”

As rare as it is for Charlotte to see two fall storms severe enough to close schools, it could be much worse. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction reported Thursday that four counties in eastern North Carolina — Robeson, Onslow, Duplin and Jones — have not reopened schools since Florence brought massive flooding. Two others, Pender and Craven, have reopened a few schools but most remain closed.

CMS and Union County made the call Wednesday to close Thursday, leading to some criticism early in the day, when the storm brought only rain.

“Why are the schools closed for rain?” one person posted on the CMS Facebook page. “Kids almost need to have a stay at home mom in order to make up for any days with wind and rain.”

“My heart aches for the families that have no available child care and will lose income because they have to stay home,” another commenter wrote. “My heart aches for the kids from poor families that will not eat because they will not have access to breakfast and lunch that the school provides.”

Other nearby districts, including Gaston, Cabarrus and Iredell-Statesville, waited until Thursday morning to announce closings. ISS sent buses out to pick up kids, only to turn the buses around as weather worsened.

And many parents told CMS they were grateful for early decisions that err on the side of safety.

“As a former bus driver, buses can not handle high winds,” one person wrote on Facebook. “They will flip over, we (are) talking safety of children here.”

“I like this new superintendent,” another wrote. (Superintendent Clayton Wilcox started in July 2017.) “He puts the safety of our children and staff first. He seems to try not to wait to the very last second to decide.”

Union County said it would announce Friday’s plans around 8:30 p.m. Thursday. The district reported that at 3:30 p.m. Thursday that 11 schools were without power.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms