Lights Out at West Potomac

School opens on time, despite lack of power and lighting


(Staff photo)

Students and staff waiting in the gym until power resumes

On October 29th, despite the fact that West Potomac had lost power, students were still piling out of buses and cars at 7:00 a.m. to start the school day. “The school handled it as best they could,” commented senior Mary Stilwell, “but Fairfax County should have delayed or cancelled school.”

The power at the school and parts of the surrounding neighborhood went out the night before because of a break in a power line beneath a previously filled sinkhole behind the softball field. The sinkhole, caused by years, had taken four truckloads of dirt to fill and repair. A water line connected to the sprinklers near the sinkhole had started to leak, and because it had gone unnoticed after the dirt had been added, the weight of the waterlogged soil over the power line ruptured it, causing the blackout.

Despite the blackout, the school started as if it were a normal day, so WestPo’s staff, faculty, and students had to do the best they could in the dark.

“I thought it was handled great. The students behaved exemplary. The staff did a great job of keeping everyone informed. They took what could have been a potentially disastrous situation and turned it into something positive.” said Spanish teacher Victoria O’Connor.

The question many were asking that day: why didn’t FCPS close school for the day or delay the opening? The power went out during a volleyball game being held the night before, so there was plenty of warning and time to make the decision. “I saw the lack of power the night before [because I live so close] so I was really hoping we weren’t going to have to go to school.” said senior Joseph Richards.

When asked, assistant principal Alex Case said the decision as to whether or not to delay or close was not one that could be made at the school-level by him or interim principal Bruce Butler. Case did request a three-hour opening delay from FCPS Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Platenberg, but Platenberg felt confident that the power would be restored in time and therefore did not think the delay would be necessary.

“Relative to the previous major blackout, this was much better,” Case noted. “I was really impressed with how everything was handled. Truthfully I was skeptical about if we were going to be able to open or not. I asked about opening late or closing, but Mr. Platenberg was sure we’d have power quickly.”

West Potomac staff and students dealt with the blackout as best as they could.. Everyone behaved well and teachers and students improvised where possible to work in the dark. Where that wasn’t possible, teachers and students gathered in various places in the school where emergency lighting was on, like the cafeteria and the gymnasium.

By 9:15 a.m. power was back on and classes resumed as scheduled, despite the strange and disorienting start to the day.