Wisconsin parents heated after fire drill given in midst of deep freeze

A monthly fire drill at a Wisconsin elementary school in sub-zero temperatures had several parents concerned. (WLUK/Mike Moon)

RIPON, Wis. (WLUK) — A standard school drill had parents in Ripon, Wisconsin heated Tuesday.

Despite the dangerously low temperatures, students at Barlow Park Elementary School went outside for a monthly fire drill. Parents said they were baffled by the school’s decision.

Ripon Area Schools remained open Tuesday, but that’s not what concerned these elementary school parents. Having their children outside in the sub-zero cold did.

“As parents, we trust schools to put our kids safety at number one and, as of today’s (incident), I just feel some of that wasn’t met,” said Vince King, parent of a kindergartner at the school.

“We’re sending children, age 5-8 out in this stuff and, whether it was 10 seconds or 10 minutes, it’s still not okay,” said another parent, Stephanie Neuman, whose child is a second grader at the school.

Parents said they were outraged their kids were back out in the bitter elements just moments after they made it to school.

“At drop-off, I can’t even tell you how many students I saw that were just wearing their blue jeans and a jacket, because their parents sent them thinking they’re not going to be going outside today,” Neuman said.

“It’s always been nothing but positive,” King said. “The teachers are great, and I have nothing but positive things to say but, today, it just kind of gives it a black eye.”

They wanted answers, and they wanted them fast.

“Immediately, I wanted to speak to the principal,” Neuman said. "Basically, I just wanted an explanation why, of all days, why?”

Wisconsin state law says all schools must conduct a monthly fire drill, but there is one exception.

After doing some quick digging of his own and reaching out to his local state representative, King found out just what that exception was.

"There is currently an option to waive that monthly fire drill in the case of inclement weather,” said State Rep. Joan Ballweg, R-Markesan.

The school's Principal Tanya Sanderfoot gave the following statement:

"An abbreviated fire drill was held today, January 29, 2019 at Barlow Park Elementary and Journey Charter Schools at the start of the school day. Teachers were notified this morning prior to the start of school to have their kids remain bundled up in their winter clothes at arrival so they were prepared for a very quick fire drill. Being a relatively new principal, I was not aware of the statute that provides an exemption from monthly fire drills due to inclement weather so was concerned with being compliant for our monthly fire drill. I am now aware of the exemption and hope this helps all principals be aware that there is an exemption. I did receive some calls from parents and sent out a message right away so they would know all students had full winter clothing on for the drill and that I wish I would have cancelled the planned drill."

In response to that statement, King said, "I’m hoping that by sharing this story, all the districts that maybe weren’t aware of this exemption – having drills in cold weather – are now made aware of it, so they don’t put kids in these elements again."

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