Storm produces 'lightning day' in Riverside

? Hauser Jr. High and Central School students went home early on Jan. 12 after lightning knocked out power to the area.

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By BOB UPHUES

If August is considered the dog days of summer, then January has to be the dog days of the school year. With no relief in sight until spring break, the only thing a kid can hope for is a snow day.

Or, if it's January 2005, a lightning day.

That's just what the students at Central School and Hauser Junior High in Riverside received from the heavens on Jan. 12. During a rare January thunderstorm, lightning knocked out power to the neighborhood surrounding the two schools, and kids were sent home for the day.

"What was reported to me was that the cause was a lightning strike of either a power line or a transformer," said Riverside School District 96 Superintendent Dr. David Bonnette.

Power outages at the schools are uncommon but not unheard of, according to Bonnette, who has seen a handful of them during his 12-year tenure in the district.

"Normally when we have an outage it's three to four hours that we're down, and we can't operate in that situation," Bonnette said. "So we ended up sending the kids home."

The two schools house some 780 students between them. Central School is the largest elementary school in the district, and Hauser is the district's only junior high. The two schools are adjacent to each other on Woodside Road, just west of downtown Riverside.

That made contacting parents a bit of a problem, since the power outage also affected the district's phone system. Many of the junior high students were able to call their parents via cellphone, and all Hauser students were cleared by school staff before leaving for the day.

At Central School, students were released to their parents, although some remained at the school until after 11 a.m.

There was also one case in which a student's parent could not be reached. In that instance, the teacher took the student home and a left a note on the door of the student's home.

"Over the weekend we're sending a letter home to remind people that they have to keep their contact information current, and to have a conversation with their kids on what to do when there's an emergency," Bonnette said. "This weather-related thing was not real serious, and there was time to deal with it. But we could have a serious situation ... and kids need to know what to do and where to contact them."

The power outage occurred at approximately 8:45 a.m., shortly after the school day began. Power returned to the schools just after 10 a.m. The decision to send kids home was made early on, however, given the history of similar situations the district has encountered.

"To get a real firm commitment from ComEd is virtually impossible," Bonnette said. "That's the shortest time span I can recall in terms of a power outage [at one of the schools]."

The day will not be made up, said Bonnette, since school was offered throughout the rest of the district.

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