Generators not working at darkened schools, says LTA

The Langley Teachers Association president wants to know why emergency generators failed to work, and why flashlight batteries were dead.

Some students in Langley were left out in the cold after a fierce storm ripped through Langley on Tuesday.

Now the Langley Teachers Association president wants to know why emergency generators failed to work, and why flashlight batteries were dead.

Gail Chaddock-Costello said that students at H.D. Stafford Secondary, who arrived at 8 a.m., and pupils who arrived at James Hill Elementary half an hour later, “had to remain outside in the cold as staff waited for a decision” on whether or not the schools would be open.

Chaddock-Costello noted that both schools have solid shutters that do not open without power, so when students were allowed into their schools at 9 a.m., they were “herded into the small gym, in complete darkness, the only light (coming) from the door left open.”

Why they were not taken to the lobby that is brightened by a skylight is a mystery, she said.

A teacher of the low-incidence students at Stafford refused to bring her students to the gym because she felt she could not be responsible for their safety in the darkness, surrounded by hundreds of other students and staff.

At James Hill, teachers put out mats for students to sit on in the hallways, and a student’s grandmother arrived with blankets, while another parent brought candles.

“It was cold in the buildings as I witnessed when I visited,” Costello said.

“Staff and students were still wearing their winter coats.”

She said that contrary to a radio report that encouraged all students to attend as there would be ‘residual heat,’ the heat soon dissipated when doors were opened to let in the light.

Phones at Stafford were not working, and an administrator had to run out to buy a phone that did not require power to work. At James Hill the phones were also not working and the secretary had to go elsewhere to call parents.

Teachers at HDSMS were asked to allow students to use their cell phones and to release students home, once the school was closed.

This is contrary to the district’s emergency response plan which states that only administrators and office staff with access to home phone numbers and emergency contacts are permitted to release students.

She said it was a “health and safety nightmare” that no attendance was taken at HDSMS, leaving staff with no idea who was at the school, who was absent and who had left of their own accord.

“Staff at both schools were very concerned for student safety and comfort, and very upset that equipment as basic as functioning generators, flashlights, and alternate phone systems, were not in place,” she said.

She called the lack of advance emergency planning, emergency back up plans and scheduled checks of required emergency equipment such as generators “appalling.”