Durham Public Schools Superintendent Pascal Mubenga apologized Thursday night for holding classes on Monday, when torrential rains and a tornado warning caused chaos on the streets.
“It was a really tough day for our students, our staff, our families and our community members,” Mubenga said during a meeting of the school board. “That’s an experience that I will not let my staff go through another day.”
Mubenga said his team met Tuesday for a post-mortem. Aaron Beaulieu, chief operating officer for Durham Public Schools, explained the decisions school officials had made beginning Sunday afternoon.
He said school maintenance staff checked the district’s facilities and roadways Sunday afternoon for potential hazards. By then, the county had closed its emergency management center and the Red Cross had shut down its shelters.
A steady rain began Sunday night, but when school officials checked the weather between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., they determined the conditions were manageable.
Then the rain picked up. At 5:13 a.m., the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning. At 7:32 a.m., the weather service issued the first of two tornado warnings.
“The early morning conditions became more severe than it was being forecast and took most agencies and businesses in the community by surprise,” Beaulieu said.
By that point, the buses were running, and authorities decided it would be safer for them to continue their routes so students could take shelter at schools.
“I take full responsibility for the decision,” Beaulieu said. “I regret that the conditions became such that for a time period we were truly not able to have a safe environment for the operation of schools.”
Mubenga said he would adjust his approach to storm-related school closures and report back to the board with a new plan next month.