Patricia Elliott-Patton was about to send her seventh-grade daughter out to the bus stop on a brutally cold Wednesday morning around 7:15 a.m. when she decided to double check to make sure schools were even open.
After all, Buffalo schools were closed the day before because of the weather, and forecasters were calling for another bone-chilling morning Wednesday.
But surprisingly, Elliott-Patton hadn’t received a robocall at home, so she telephoned the district to check for a message on the voicemail. There was none.
Then she called a friend to see if television news had carried any information. Sure enough, Buffalo schools were closed for everyone except staff and students taking the Regents exams.
That left Elliott-Patton scrambling to figure out what she would do with her daughter for the day, as well as her two nieces and two grandchildren, who also live in the home with their mothers.
Many other Buffalo parents and children, even those who did get calls, also felt left out in the cold. They said they did not receive robocalls or text alerts until around 6:45 a.m. By that time, kids were getting ready for school or already out the door, forcing upset parents to rearrange their day and secure child care.
“It was disturbing. It was inconvenient. We had to figure out what we were going to do at the last moment. It didn’t make any sense,” Elliott-Patton said. “I was angry, upset, irritated and perplexed... It was extra stress added onto my normal daily situation.”
The robocalls are the last line of notification, said district spokeswoman Elena Cala. The first line is WBEN radio, which officially announces school closings for the district. Parents are notified “in multiple ways at the beginning of the school year that WBEN is the place to listen,” Cala said.
At 6;05 a.m., after Superintendent Pamela Brown’s decision to close schools, the district’s transportation director keyed the information into an automated reporting system for the media, Cala said.
Robocalls - which are only follow-ups to the media notifications - were activated around 6:10 a.m. or earlier, Cala said. Then the district emailed a follow-up announcement at 6:44 a.m. to media outlets, School Board members and others that schools were closed for all students except Regents test-takers.
Brown said Wednesday afternoon that the district now is discussing making the decisions earlier than 6 a.m., but that Wednesday was not the first time a school closing was announced in the morning rather than the night before.
City schools, which have had five weather-related school closings so far this year, may have one snow day left, Brown said. On Tuesday, almost all school districts in Erie County were closed because of bad weather. On Wednesday, many were open but delayed their starts by two hours.
Meanwhile, Buffalo parents who depended on robocalls said it took the district way too long to make the decision and communicate it to parents. Single mom Jessica Bauer Walker said it showed a disconnect between the people making the decisions and the reality that parents must cope with.
“It takes a toll on working parents. It’s just very frustrating and very overwhelming for parents to figure out the day,” said Walker, who has a child in the first grade and another in pre-K.
“I understand the district is over-extended because we’ve had so many snow days, but we really need to put families and children first and understand the vast majority of parents” in the district “are single moms,” said Walker.
She had to cancel an 8:30 a.m. work meeting Wednesday and had no choice but to reschedule other meetings that day. By 11 a.m. Wednesday, Walker was still at home with her kids because she couldn’t secure child care for them in the morning.
School Board Member James M. Sampson, a trustee at West Buffalo Charter School, said he received calls from parents upset by the timeliness of the announcement by the district, which provides transportation for the school.
“Why did we wait so long? I am already getting calls that kids were standing on corners waiting for buses that weren’t coming,” he told district officials early Wednesday morning.
West Buffalo Charter is the only public or charter school in Buffalo that opens at 7 a.m., Cala said. All other schools open later, she said.
Christine Dusher, assistant director of children’s programs at the Jewish Community Center on Delaware Avenue, found out about the closings at around 6:15 a.m. through a media text alert. The announcement came in a little later than usual, she said, but staff was somewhat prepared just in case.
“We knew it was a possibility so we tried to prepare ahead of time and tried to have staff on hand,” Dusher said, adding that she did hear some rumblings from frustrated parents who were dropping off their children.
“A little bit of ‘So late today,’ and ‘Why did they wait so long?’ ” Dusher said.
Some day care centers like JCC normally offer after school programs, but if they have enough advance notice they can be available for all day child care.