HOUSTON – Houston Independent School District officials faced scrutiny following the district's decision not to shutter its campuses Thursday in the wake of heavy rainfall and severe flooding from Tropical Depression Imelda.
Hundreds of parents, students and faculty members took to social media to voice their criticism of the district's decision, some sharing harrowing stories of students and faculty members stranded at schools and images of parents wading through floodwaters to pick up their children.
In a Twitter post, HISD stood by its decision to keep its campuses open.
HISD said, "The weather event, unfortunately, took a turn that was unforeseen by many area school districts and agencies. Throughout the day, we took proactive measures to keep our students and staff safe. We followed the emergency management officials' advice to shelter in place and maintain normal dismissal times."
Terry Abbott, former HISD press secretary, weighed in on the district's decision not to cancel school in the wake of Imelda. Abbott, a former top official at the U.S. Department of Education, told KPRC 2 that the choice to cancel classes in the face of severe weather is one of the "toughest decisions school leaders have to make."
"Calling off school is a complicated decision, in part because canceling school leaves thousands of children home alone while their parents are at work," Abbott said.
For the same reason, canceling classes causes its own share of problems, Abbott said.
"A school district may cancel classes during the middle of the day and sent children home but, often, there are no adults there to receive the children," Abbott said.
While school district leaders take into account many factors when making the decision whether to cancel classes during severe weather, Abbott said the safety of the students should take precedence over all else.
"Ultimately, the safety of students must be the driving factor in determining whether to cancel classes," Abbott said. ‘It's best to always err on the side of keeping students, staff and parents safe."