Yesterday afternoon, the second EF-5 tornado in 15 years struck the town of Moore, Oklahoma. As a nationwide audience watched the live coverage from local TV station, the tornado leveled roughly 30 square miles, including two schools, plus damage to three more and to a hospital. I don’t know what it is about Moore, but it seems to be a tornado magnet.
From what I’ve read, the school day had not yet ended when the tornado struck, which meant the schools were full. As the immediate shock wears off, some of the discussion will inevitably turn to the question of whether the schools should have dismissed early. In my opinion, the answer is “absolutely not”.
While it’s true that (as of this writing) nine children died, it’s quite possible the death toll would have been even worse. If the students don’t get home before they tornado hits, they’re sitting ducks in the school bus or walking home. During last year’s Henryville, IN tornado, a bus driver returned to school after an early dismissal, saving the lives of the students aboard.
Even if the students make it home, that’s not necessarily much safer. Numerous homes in the damage path were leveled. In other cases, students live in mobile homes or otherwise weak structures. It is tantamount to a death sentence to send them home in such conditions. This was the case in Enterprise, Alabama in 2007. While school officials received criticism for this decision, they made the right one.
Having students on the road during a tornado is obviously not the answer. Having students at be home isn’t particularly compelling in many cases. Because we cannot yet predict the specific path of a tornado until it has formed, it’s hard to make the argument in favor of cancelling classes. While some students have been killed by staying at school, it remains the best option available.