Several Hampton Roads schools didn’t shelter during tornado warning

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Several schools in Hampton Roads did not shelter in the midst of tornado warnings issued Thursday, 10 On Your Side has learned.

WAVY News confirmed Thursday that Kempsville Middle School students didn’t shelter after receiving several complaints from parents.

Eileen Cox, a spokesperson for Virginia Beach schools, said Friday that Kempsville Middle was among six schools that didn’t take shelter during the warning. The other five schools include Linkhorn Park Elementary, Cooke Elementary, Parkway Elementary, Bayside Middle and Cox High.

Students weren’t ordered to shelter “either because of the path of the storm or because they were unaware of the warning,” Cox said.

“We need to step this up and they need better training and they need to take it serious,” said Laura Lambrecht, a Virginia Beach mother of six. “God forbid something did happen and those kids were scattered around the school, you know, it would have been a disaster.”

Cox said in a statement the division admits they must improve their practices.

“We know that parents have high expectations of us when their children are in our care,” a statement from Cox reads in part. “We take that responsibility very seriously and are re-doubling our efforts to ensure every step is being taken to keep our students safe. Therefore, we are working right now to strengthen our internal procedures.”

Cox said all schools had already taken precautionary measures Thursday. Students were moved inside from portable classrooms and students were kept indoors.

Schools officials have already begun reviewing protocol, testing equipment and improving communication and training.

Parents from Great Bridge Middle School in Chesapeake and Wilson High in Portsmouth also emailed 10 On Your Side, saying students did not seek shelter in those schools during the severe weather either.

Kellie Goral, spokesperson for Chesapeake schools, says, “Great Bridge Middle School followed protocol and was ready to take the appropriate cover if necessary.”

Goral says school procedure designates that once a tornado warning is issued for the city, schools monitor alerts and have “spotters” positioned around the building.

“Since Chesapeake is a large city, over 350 square miles, it depends on the direct line of the storms in regard to the drill status a school will exercise. If a school is in the direct line (according to the National Weather Service) or if the weather warrants, the entire school takes the appropriate cover,” Goral tells WAVY.com. “Appropriate cover depends on the structure of a school and what is safely appropriate for that school.”

Specifically, office staff and school administrators were monitoring the movement of the weather via network television, computer weather sites, cell phone applications, and live visual checks by their designated “spotters.”

In Portsmouth, schools officials say students did take shelter during the warning.

“Wilson High followed appropriate safety and emergency procedures during the tornado warning [Thursday], and school staff actively monitored the weather via TV and an emergency radio during the weather event,” Cherise Newsome, a spokesperson for Portsmouth Public Schools said.

According to Newsome, there were designated weather spotters and administrative staff walked the halls to share information with teachers and staff about the warning and procedures for sheltering throughout the building. Some buses were called back during the warning, but most hadn’t started picking up students or dropping them off because the warning didn’t happen during the main dismissal time, Newsome said.

“Our operations director communicated with Wilson and all of our schools prior to the weather event, during the watch and at the start of the warning,” she said.

Newsome said any parents with specific concerns can either speak directly with the school principal or call her at 757-393-8743.

“We really want parents to understand that we take student safety seriously,” Newsome told 10 On Your Side.

WAVY’s Stephanie Harris contacted the National Weather Service and Virginia Beach Emergency Management, who said weather warnings went out Thursday with no problems, but older weather radios only receive warnings if they’re inside the warning area.