By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
Evacuation during a wildfire is something most Four Points families lived through in September 2011, and with the continued drought and threat of wildfire, one local parent wants to know more about the evacuation plans for Vandegrift High School and Four Points Middle School.
Leander ISD parent Jannine Farnum said all she wanted was a better understanding of the school’s evacuation policy in case of emergency, prior to her son starting school at Vandegrift. She contacted VHS but said she was given a vague answer.
“I’m not asking for information on a bomb threat, which I can understand why you might keep that info private,” Farnum said.
“My question is in response to a wildfire. These two schools, FPMS and VHS, are at the end of a dead end road that backs to a canyon preserve that, if it caught on fire, would travel up the canyon to the schools direction. There is only one way in and one way out for those schools and several apartments,” Farnum said.
But, according to officials, a vague answer is all Farnum and other parents will get. LISD spokesperson Veronica Sopher said it is standard practice for school districts to keep their schools’ evacuation plans out of the public eye.
LISD emergency response plans
“Security experts recommend not putting out your evacuation plan information,” Sopher said. “The state allows you to keep it private. We’re not going to release that kind of stuff. Having said that, we have to assure the community that we do have (evacuation plans). We have different variations and we practice them by law. That’s always the way it is at every school.”
Sopher said that emergency response plans differ depending on the type of emergency, and regardless of the type, LISD always works with and follows the recommendation of emergency management officials.
“In the event of emergency, we always follow our protocol and we always follow the recommendation of the authorities,” Sopher said. “If it’s a fire, if they want us to leave the premise, we will. They are experts in this field. While we train and work with them, they know what threats may exist. They are just as committed to protecting our students as we are.”
Farnum wishes the school district should let parents know what to do in case of emergency, to prevent the gridlock that would occur if all the parents showed up at the schools at the same time.
“If something were to happen, why would you want thousands of parents driving up to the school, causing more traffic, to pick up their kids if there is a plan to take them away from the area,” Farnum said.
“Why not tell parents ahead of time what to do in case of such an emergency? If the Steiner fires are any example of the emergency responders’ readiness for such an evacuation, it clearly needs to be worked on,” Farnum added.
Sopher agreed that in certain scenarios it might be better for parents not to come to the school. She said in the past, when parents came to the school due to a potential tornado threat, they were sheltered at the school along with the students.
She said sometimes it is safer for students to shelter in place at the school rather than evacuate, even in the case of wildfire, because of the fireproof nature of the school’s building materials and surrounding property. She said the school is made of the same stone as the retirement center that was used to shelter wildfire victims in 2011, and has also eliminated the vegetation on its surrounding property.
Getting the word out
Sopher said the district would keep parents informed with updates in any case of emergency.
“Primarily we communicate with our school messenger system,” Sopher said. “That would include phone calls, emails and/or text if they have opted in to receive text messages. We also work with the local media and those messages are communicated via normal media standards. And then any updates we make are always posted on our website and on campus websites.”
FP Traffic Committee road progress
LISD board president and VHS parent Pam Waggoner has been a strong advocate for an additional road to be built to the schools to help alleviate congestion.
“The city and county continue to put up roadblocks in our quest to build the road, but there is progress,” Waggoner said. “We continue to need the citizens of the Four Points area to remain vigilant in their determination to build the road and hold their elected officials and current candidates accountable. I continue to update all progress and roadblocks on our Facebook page under Four Points Traffic Committee.”
Farnum said she still has many questions for the district.
“Parents need to have comfort ahead of time that there is a plan in place and what the plan is so they can be prepared if such an evacuation takes place,” she said. “Surely LISD has to be able to imagine the hysteria of parents trying to reach their kids. I don’t believe they keep buses at the school so how do they plan to get over 2,000 kids out of that area?”
Waggoner said the threat of emergency is a perfect example of why an additional road is needed.
“As a parent and a trustee, my sole reason for wanting this road into VHS and FPMS is safety,” she said. “While I feel we have an adequate evacuation plan in case of an emergency, it could only be improved by having a second escape route. It is without question this road is needed and should be built. In fact, the BCCP covenants allow for this kind of progress.”