EDITORIAL: PB Schools Makes Right Decision At Wrong Time

Wayne Gent

Dr. Wayne Gent, Superintendent of Palm Beach County School District. (Photo Courtesy: PBSD).

BOCA RATON, FL (BocaNewsNow.com) — EDITORIAL: The closing of Palm Beach County Schools Monday was the right call made at the wrong time. The last minute decision, we believe, represents a message management issue with Palm Beach County Schools that must be rectified promptly.

The Palm Beach County School District issued at least two press releases on Sunday affirming that schools would be open Monday, despite announcements that schools in Broward and Miami-Dade counties would be closed. A tropical storm warning covering all of Palm Beach County was in effect at the time the press releases were issued. Hurricane advisories were in effect to our south.

We do not know the official source of weather information for Dr. Wayne Gent, the school system's relatively new superintendent, but we do know that Florida Atlantic University issued a press release — almost simultaneously to the school district's — announcing that FAU would be closed.

It seems unlikely that FAU was using a different forecast than the Palm Beach County School District.

Closing school for a storm is a difficult decision for superintendents nationwide. In snow-prone regions, it is often a guessing game of determining whether snow will be powder, wet, or packed on ice. Powder may be no issue for school busses, while wet snow or ice can be treacherous. These are often factors in making an overnight, last minute decision.

But nothing about Tropical Storm Isaac was last minute. The National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center made it clear that rain and wind would continue Monday, even if the storm jogged to the west. Anyone who has spent any time in South Florida knows that bad weather continues after the main part of the storm has passed.

Which is why it is so befuddling that Dr. Gent waited until the middle of the night to close school. Parents already planned for their children to have a “normal” day. Area daycare centers and religious institions — many of which yield to the school district's lead — advised that they would be open as well, only to suddenly change plans overnight as well.

The end result: parents and business owners being forced to make emergency daycare and staffing decisions Monday morning — decisions that could have calmly been made over the weekend.

Closing school was the right call. There is nothing more important than the safety our children. But making that call in the middle of the night — after affirming that schools would be open just hours earlier — suggests a decision making problem in the ranks of the Palm Beach County School District.

Dr. Gent is no stranger to Palm Beach County or its weather. He has served in the school system for many years. But this is the latest misstep for Dr. Gent who several months ago issued a statement saying that he was “pleased” with FCAT scores that were either lower — or the same — as previous years.

Parents argued that there was nothing to be pleased about.

As Superintendent, we suggest that Dr. Gent take a fresh look at the impact of his decisions, his statements, and their timing. Tropical Storm Isaac made no sudden shift overnight, and there was no reason for the Palm Beach County School District to wait until the middle of the night to make a decision that — as neighboring school districts proved — should have been made much earlier.

We welcome comments and opposing points of view.


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