22 Aug 2014
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Parents in Uproar Over Schools' Handling of Gas Leak

Gas line in Linden Hills breached Wednesday afternoon.

Parents in Uproar Over Schools' Handling of Gas Leak

Wednesday's large gas leak in Linden Hills didn't produce the same kind of towering inferno that exploded from a Windom street two years ago, but it still produced a figurative flame of parental anger directed at public school officials for leaving parents in the dark about their children's whereabouts during the gas emergency.

"The communications dept has got to do a better job getting this info to parents. When kids don't come home on time, parents worry, when there is no explanation, parents worry A LOT!!!" -  Bridget, MPS parent.

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The district's Facebook page was filled with messages from angry parents demanding to know where their children were after some schools near the evacuation zone—an area from West 39th Street to West 42nd Street and from Upton Ave Soutb to Zenith Ave South—held students or transported them to other schools while Minneapolis firefighters and CenterPoint Energy crews labored to render the leaky pipe safe.

"I haven't heard anything. Are they holding kids who walk home to unaffected area?" - Ahndi, MPS parent.

For over an hour, chaos reigned in the parental grapevine as students from Lake Harriet Lower Campus, Lake Harriet Upper Campus, and Southwest High School didn't come home on time. On the district's Facebook page, frustrated parents asked where their children were, and angrily asked why the district's robocall system—so adept at spreading news about upcoming events like  "Soup With the Supe"—left them in the dark.

As it turned out, the district held dismissal for students at all three schools for various lengths of time. Most Southwest students only had to wait a few minutes for buses to detour around the evacuation zone, while some Lake Harriet students didn't get a bus ride home until the city gave the final all-clear around 6 p.m. Other students, who lived inside the eight-block zone, were transported to Ramsey Middle School to wait for their parents. Those delayed releases reverberated around the district

The district first called families (audio) living in the evacuation zone to tell them first to pick up their children from Ramsey Middle School, if their bus left school before 3 p.m., and to hang tight if their bus left school after 3 p.m., roughly when Minneapolis emergency crews established the evacuation zone. The district later called the same parents (audio) in the evacuation zone to repeat the message.

The complete picture didn't filter down to parents until between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., said district spokesperson Larissa Chinwah, when Assistant Superintendent Theresa Battle placed the third  robocall of the day to all district parents (audio). 

"I'm calling to let you know that a situation in South Minneapolis may have affected your child's bus ride home," Battle said. "For the safety of students, Minneapolis Public Schools delayed the release of school buses city-wide. Minneapolis police established a perimeter in South Minneapolis due to a gas leak. Your child's bus may have been delayed, but is now on its way home."

Later that evening, officials published an apology  on the district's Facebook page and  on its website.

"We apologize for the delay in communication to families whose students' buses were delayed," the statement read. "We know that families rely on us to keep them informed in a timely fashion and we regret the concern the delay in communication caused. We will work to improve our processes district-wide to make sure we serve you better in the future."

In response, more frustrated parents piled on the district.

"Finally got a message at 6:30pm. By that time, what's the point?," wrote one.

"I got a call at 6:30, and agree, useless at that point. But glad it's being addressed," another wrote.

Chinwah said the district would be looking at the way it communicates internally and externally to address the problems glaringly revealed Wednesday afternoon.

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