Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange

Ficarra: Paralyzing Snow Storm Might Be ‘The New Normal’

Last week’s ferocious snow storm that paralyzed the entire region and left commuters and schoolchildren stranded on roads for hours might be “the new normal,” said the head of South Orange-Maplewood schools.

“…no one saw this storm coming, no one,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Thomas Ficarra at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. “Our transportation and communication systems were simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of needs happening…throughout the state.”

But, the administration is working toward putting systems in place “to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

Ficarra made his comments after the father of a six-year-old, who he said was stuck on a stranded school bus for three hours before being dropped off far from home and released to a stranger, slammed the district for its handling of the issue.

“The bus was a nightmare, kids were scared, crying, jumping around the bus and wetting themselves because their requests to go to the bathroom were ignored,” said the father. “My son was dumped out at a random location more than half a mile from his [bus] stop. He had no idea where to go and when a stranger said they would take him, he was given to that stranger…he thought he had been kidnapped.”

Contrary to a letter Ficarra sent out last week, “you have no idea whether my son made it home safe because your staff has never to this day contacted us. The only concern the whole time…was to pass the buck along to somebody else.”

“I empathize with you and the children and I’m well aware of what they went through and I can’t imagine putting myself in your shoes…not being sure where my elementary school child was for a number of hours,” said Ficarra. However, the storm and the chaos it caused was unprecedented.

He continued: “In the 24 years that I’ve been a superintendent, this was a first for me. But I want to assure you that we are proceeding as this is the new normal with climate change…Maybe this is what storms will look like in future.”

Earlier this morning the administration met with municipal officials and police to address the issue, including putting systems in place to enable the district to directly communicate with school bus drivers and parents.

Ficarra defended the dedication of staff, who remained in the buildings until all students were picked up or got off buses.

“Crises do occur, and when they occur you want dedicated people who put children’s needs before their own. That is what we got.. I’m proud of the job our staff did and I hope you are too.”

Ficarra said the district is doing “what do we need to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

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