Changing system meant some parents didn't know schools were closed

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJanuary 21, 2014 

Tim Diachun shoveled snow from the walk in front of his house Tuesday on Providence Road in Lexington.

PHOTO BY CHARLES BERTRAM | STAFF — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • Make-up days: Officials canceled Wednesday classes Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday marked the fifth day missed for winter weather this year. That means school will be in session through June 3.

Fayette County Schools' transition to a new weather notification system caused some problems Tuesday when some parents didn't get a telephone alert that classes had been canceled.

Fayette County Schools' spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Tuesday that officials had recently told parents the district was replacing its automated system, which has been used the past two years to call every parent in the district to inform them of school cancellations.

Deffendall said schools will soon provide information on a new automated calling system.

Under the new system, tied to the online Infinite Campus system, which parents use to check student grades, families will be able to select the phone numbers they want the district to use.

The new system also gives people the option of receiving text messages about closings.

Deffendall had previously said no phone calls would go out in the interim. A Jan. 5 post on the district's Facebook page said, "Until we can get the information home to families, there will not be a phone call, so if there is a change to schedules this week, we will again be limited" to other methods.

Tuesday's cancellation was announced on the district's cable TV network (Channel 13 on Lexington's Time Warner lineup), and its Facebook and Twitter pages, and the information was given to all media outlets, Deffendall said. The district's website, FCPS.net, was down for maintenance early Tuesday morning, so no online notification could be sent out.

Not everyone got the news Tuesday, causing parents and employees to leave messages online.

Deffendall confirmed that parents voiced concerns to the district that they had not gotten a phone call.

When Wednesday's classes were canceled late Tuesday afternoon, district officials posted the announcement on the website. The message quickly made its way through social media and news sites. By 4:20 p.m., the district had posted a message on Facebook and Twitter.

The district sent out an email Tuesday afternoon saying the district "will be sending a phone call announcement about this closing to all of the phone numbers we have on file for the families in our school district, since the decision was made early in the day and we will not be inconveniencing families at 5:30 a.m."

Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton said Tuesday evening that the new "system is up and we can now make calls as we normally would do and so we used the new system."

Tuesday's email to parents said "look for information to come home soon about how to customize your preferences in Infinite Campus for future early morning weather notifications via phone or text."

The district paid about $48,700 a year to a Texas company that specialized in mass notification under the previous system called IRIS, or Immediate Response Information System. The goal was to have families start getting calls at 5:30 a.m. at the number they listed when they enrolled a child. The Web-based system, which the district began using in January 2012, was set up to notify every family in the school district within 15 minutes. The district has more than 40,000 students enrolled.

A post on the district's Facebook page this month said the old system had failed more than once and the upgrade is expected to be a "huge" improvement.

Suzanna Schroeder of Lexington said she has three children, each in a different school, and none of them brought home a notice about a new telephone notification system or that the old one was no longer being used.

Schroeder said she took her daughter to the bus stop Tuesday because she didn't get a phone call or an email.

"If you are going to take something away in the middle of winter, have something else in place first or stick with the old system until the new one is in place," she said. "Or at least send something home with the kids to let us know."

Herald-Leader Staff Writer Jim Warren contributed to this article. Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter: @vhspears.

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