New alert system will call parents of Fayette students when classes are canceled

When winter weather forces Fayette schools to close, families will get automatic notification by phone.
When winter weather forces Fayette schools to close, families will get automatic notification by phone. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

If (or when) Fayette County Public Schools calls off classes because of snow this winter, every parent in the district will quickly get an automated phone call informing them of the cancellation, school district officials say.

The new alert system also will call parents if the district delays classes or closes schools early because of weather, and the system could be used to disseminate non-emergency information, district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said.

"We feel like we've done enough preliminary work that we're ready to roll out the system," Deffendall said. "We'll start it with snow calls but, eventually, we'd like to use it to let parents know about any pressing information coming out of the schools."

If the school district decided to cancel classes because of an overnight snow, parents would start getting calls at 5:30 a.m., officials said. The Web-based system dials numbers so rapidly that it could notify every family in the school district, which has more than 37,000 students enrolled, within 15 minutes, officials said.

Fayette County parents no longer would have to get up early to check radio or television for school closings.

Deffendall said, however, that the district would continue to post closings on its cable TV network (Channel 13 on Lexington's Insight lineup), its Facebook and Twitter pages, and its Web site. It also will continue to notify the news media.

There have been no snow days in Lexington this school year. But the new alert technology, called IRIS, or Immediate Response Information System, is ready to go when needed, Deffendall said.

If the weather turns sour, the system will automatically call phone numbers that parents listed with the school system when they enrolled their children for classes.

Every family in the district will get a call unless they decide to opt out of the system, Deffendall said.

Parents can opt out by sending an email to Parents must include their name, the name of at least one child in the school district, and the child's student ID number.

Individual schools started sending notes home with students last week to explain the new system.

To use the system, Fayette County Public Schools will pay about $48,700 a year, or about $1.10 a student, Deffendall said. The district is buying the service from TechRadium Inc., a company based in Sugar Land, Texas, that specializes in "mass notification."

District officials decided to buy the technology with money from a federal grant last year.

A few schools have tested it on an interim basis. For example, some have used the system to notify parents about PTA meetings, class field trips and other events, Deffendall said.

The district will send a test call before the first snowfall to identify any bugs in the system, she said.

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