Faced with severe flooding in parts of Riverside and Brookfield, the leaders of Riverside-Brookfield High School and Riverside Elementary School District 96 decided to dismiss students early on April 18. Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 kept its two schools open for the entire school day, as did St. Mary’s Catholic School in Riverside.
“We felt it was safer for the children,” said St. Mary’s Principal Diane Simonaitis of her decision to keep the school open all day.
Riverside-Brookfield High School made the decision to close early, after District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis met with police officials from both Riverside and Brookfield.
Skinkis went to at 10 a.m. meeting held at the Riverside Township Hall. High water flooded all of the roads leading directly to the school by mid-morning, making it impossible to reach by automobile
“Due to the rising levels of the rivers there was concern about students being able to get home from the high school,” said Skinkis. “That’s why we chose to do an early release.”
Because of the flooding parents, who picked up their children by car were told to meet their children up at the Brookfield Zoo parking lot along 31st Street. Zoo officials and police allowed students to walk through the zoo to get to the north parking lot.
Students choosing to walk home were able to travel down Washington Avenue in Brookfield and Forest Avenue in Riverside, even though those streets were blocked to cars.
“Some students were able to walk across the bridge [on Forest Avenue], because we had police and fire there,” said Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel.
Parents of RBHS students also received a text message and a phone call from the school telling them that students were being dismissed early.
Over in District 96, the early release appeared to go fairly smoothly at the elementary schools, although some parents complained about the late notice they received from the schools.
Parents with kids at L.J. Hauser Junior High School received an email from Principal Leslie Berman that was sent at 12:09 p.m., telling them that students were being dismissed at 12:15 p.m. The email included no instructions about how to pick up children. Hauser parents did not receive a phone call telling them about the early dismissal.
Hauser students were not allowed to leave the building until a parent picked them up or gave the school verbal permission to let the child leave with another adult.
As a result, a long line of parents formed in front of the school. Parents had to go into the school where teachers and staff had a table set up. Once parents identified themselves their children were brought out to them.
Mary Judy, the parent of a Hauser seventh-grader, said that she only spent six to eight minutes in line.
“I thought they handled it quite well,” Judy said. “I was impressed with getting that many kids out in a short period of time.”
But some other parents had a different opinion. Some said they spent a long time in line outside Hauser, and said that it was confusing when they finally got into the building with three separate lines inside the school for the three different grades.
“It was total chaos,” said Hauser parent Donna Jones.
Jones, who works at the preschool at Riverside Presbyterian Church, said she only found out that Hauser was closing early, because District 96 parents began calling the preschool.
“The email went to my home email, but I’m at work,” Jones said. “They didn’t activate the emergency system that would have went to my cellphone.”
Jones said that she called the District 96 administrative office to find out why she had not received a phone call about the early dismissal from the district’s early notification system.
“I was told that it was [Superintendent Jonathan] Lamberson’s decision not to activate it,” Jones said.
Later Thursday afternoon Lamberson called Jones and left a voicemail message for her, saying that the phone notification system was not used because of a technical problem.
“We apparently had a significant technical problem with the school reach,” Lamberson said in his message for Jones that was made available to the Landmark. “We’re not sure exactly why that happened, but we believe it’s been remedied. I agree with you, the phone system is a great tool and we definitely want to use it these kinds of situations so I apologize that was not possible for some kind of technology reason.”
Later that night, the District 96 telephone notification system was working as parents received a call in the early evening telling them that school would be closed on April 19.