The following letter was emailed by South Orange-Maplewood Interim Superintendent Dr. Thomas Ficarra to the SOMSD community on Saturday evening:
Dear SOMSD Families and Staff,
Thursday was an extraordinary evening, with the unexpectedly early winter snow blast creating travel chaos and prompting an official declaration of a State of Emergency for Essex County. The event overwhelmed transportation systems, overloaded existing communications systems, and paralyzed our two towns, our county, and our region.
I recognize that this snow emergency was extremely stressful for many of our families who were not able to reach school to pick up their children, were unsure of the exact location of the bus which their children were on, or when it would arrive home. I offer my empathy and concern for the children and their parents who were involved this emergency. We will have social workers and guidance counselors available on Monday and Tuesday to offer support to students and help them process their experiences in Thursday’s snowstorm emergency.
Students Sheltering in Place at Schools Awaiting Pick Up
Throughout Thursday afternoon and evening, SOMSD administrators and staff stayed at school working tirelessly to safeguard our students – improvising activities, allaying fears and ensuring that each child reached home safely. We opened up emergency water supplies, and food supplies in classrooms and in the cafeteria. Custodians were on staff and buildings were warm. Staff stayed in the buildings until the last child was picked up. By 10pm, all students had either been transported to their homes or to a safe location.
I would like to commend SOMSD staff members for their extraordinary dedication and resourcefulness in meeting this emergency. Our administrators and staff let me know how proud they were of their students who were so helpful to each other as they waited to be transported home.
SOMSD staff were in constant communication with the busing companies and individual district buses throughout the afternoon and evening, and tracked each bus until the last child was safely let off. We were unable to give parents individual updates on their children’s buses’ locations and ETAs due to the scale of the problem – we had about 30 buses either stuck or bogged down in traffic at the same time.
Our transportation department and business office coordinated with police to open up the routes that buses needed to get through, and school administrators stayed in their buildings until they received confirmation that every bus which had conveyed their students had returned to the yard after students were all released. In future transportation contracts, we will require that all buses have the capacity to communicate directly with school principals. We also plan to incorporate GPS systems on district and contracted buses, which can report locations of all vehicles in real time, increasing our ability to respond to inquiries and provide updates.
In this week of Thanksgiving I am so grateful that all of our children reached home safely and I am very proud of the SOMSD school community for their cooperative and caring response during this emergency.
Dr. Thomas Ficarra