Power outage causes confusion, missed classes due to poor communication


Griffin Larson

A power outage on Friday May 12 before the start of the school day led many students to leave the building and miss parts of first, second and third hour. “[Staff at the front door] said the power might be on at 11, so [we should] come back to school at 11,” recalled freshman Riley Olson. “A lot of people went back home.” However, Principal Afolabi Runsewe claimed and maintains that students were told to stay in the commons and were never given the option to leave school.

Griffin Larson, Staff Writer

On Friday May 12, South High School and parts of the surrounding neighborhood experienced a power outage that only lasted for around half an hour, but had greater effects on the school day. The school lost power before the start of the school day, sometime around 7:40 AM with only teachers and zero hour students in the building. Power was restored before first hour, but due to a lack of consistent communication many students missed much of the beginning of the school day.

Exact times are unclear, but the area lost power around 7:40 in the morning, with backup generators in the building providing minimal lighting until the power was restored by Xcel Energy. Original estimates provided by Xcel Energy predicted that power would not be restored until around 11 AM, but in actuality, power service resumed shortly after at around 8:15 AM, before the start of first hour.

Sophomore Lennon Wendelberger recalled, “The deans were telling people to either stay in the commons until the power came back on or to leave and come back at 11 and we were all trying to figure out what was going on.” Wendelberger is a member of jazz band, which was practicing during zero hour when the power went out. Wendelberger said that through the school’s PA system, it was announced, “something along the lines of: we’re working as hard as we can to get the power back on, but it’s gonna be a minute and students can leave and come back at 11…. And then probably five minutes after that the power came back on.”

Even though power to the building was restored roughly five minutes later, this announcement paired with information communicated to students via the engagement team at the front doors led to many students leaving school and missing parts of the school day, even though power was active before the start of first hour.

Although the general consensus among staff and students is that students were told they had the option to leave the building until 11 AM, Principal Afolabi Runsewe disputed this. “I actually made the announcements and my announcements were to the staff. What I told staff is… the power is obviously out—they knew that—and we’re gonna have our kids come to the commons area.” Principal Runsewe also said, “We had staff outside, our engagement team, and they were just letting students know, ‘The powers off, you can work in the commons.’”

While there’s no record of exactly what was said to students outside at the front door or to staff via Principal Runsewe’s announcements, there is a clear consensus that students were given the option to leave the building, or at the very least the information was conveyed in a way that made it appear as though there was an option to leave. Additionally, this confusion led to unexcused tardies and absences for the students who left the building.

Freshman Riley Olson said she arrived at school around 8:10 AM and was waiting with other students outside to learn more information. Olson said Assistant Principal Stephen Simondet and other staff from South’s engagement team were at the front doors. “They said the power might be on at 11, so [we should] come back to school at 11,” recalled Olson. “A lot of people went back home and as they were leaving, they were like, ‘The power’s back on, you can come in now.’” Olson said that this was after many people had already left, but since she heard this announcement she decided to go into school then. However, it seemed as though most people weren’t aware of this. “There was like no one in the school until 11,” observed Olson.

Despite all of this, Principal Runsewe and the admin team did have protocols in place and a plan for dealing with this situation and communication between Xcel Energy, the associate superintendent, and surrounding buildings and schools was effective and went smoothly. There were plans in place to move students to the practice field or football field if the outage lasted longer and an email to alert families of the situation was being drafted, but wasn’t sent. Principal Runsewe said, “Because it didn’t affect first period—like 97% of our families—we weren’t going to send a message out to all of our families because school still started on time.”

The actual source of miscommunication is unclear, but (outside of the admin) it is undisputed that students left school because of the information they were given by staff. This confusion led to an unnecessary loss of instruction and complicated a situation that could have been potentially avoided with direct communication from the school to students and families.