Oak Grove students returned to classes Thursday, three days after an EF3 tornado tore through the eastern Jackson County community.
“We wanted to let them have a couple days off to help in the community,” said Freddie Doherty, superintendent of the Oak Grove school district.
“We have a lot of students affected or if they were not affected, their relatives or friends were affected. We wanted to let them get out and help those individuals pick up the pieces, clean up and help out in any way they can.”
With the district having an early release on Friday because it’s the end of the quarter and students are off for spring break next week, the district felt two weeks out of school was too much.
“Let’s get back, try to get a little bit of normalcy in everybody’s life, finish out the end of the quarter and then everybody would have next week off to get back out and help those individuals,” Doherty said. “Then we can come back the next week and finish out the school year.”
The tornado touched down about 8:12 p.m. Monday night and damaged 483 houses and 12 commercial buildings. Although none of schools were damaged, most of the students and staff were affected by the tornado, he said.
“They were ready to get back, give each other a hug, tell their story and then get back to the normal routine,” Doherty said. “It’s important for everybody to have a little structure in their life.”
By resuming the classes, the district allowed students and staff to back to their support system and back to where they felt comfortable. The district had counselors available for those who needed it.
The district also asked student and staff to dress in orange to show support for the community. The high school’s colors are orange and black, and the district wanted to send the community a message.
“You’re not in this alone, we’re in this together,” Doherty said. “In this community, the school is a bit part of the community so school spirit is strong.”
School districts from some surrounding communities had “orange” days where they were collecting donations for the Oak Grove community.
“That really touched our heart,” Doherty said. “It meant a lot.”
Despite what the community has gone through, the first day back, Doherty said, went relativity smooth.
Meanwhile, Lee’s Summit officials said Wednesday they will update the city’s severe weather notification system after officials failed to activate an outdoor warning siren during Monday’s tornado.
Jim Eden, assistant fire chief, said the department received numerous complaints from the public regarding the decision not to sound the outdoor warning sirens during an EF1 tornado that carried wind speeds up to 108 mph.
The twister touched down about 8 p.m. near Chipman Road and Olive Street.
City officials said that the decision not to activate the sirens was made when the National Weather Service warned only of a tornado over Grandview.
The decision, Eden said, was made based on guidelines that were in place at the time of the tornado. On Wednesday, those guidelines were updated.
“In the future, when there is a tornado warning issued by the National Weather Service for any area of southern Jackson or northern Cass counties, all notification systems, including outdoor storm warning sirens, shall be activated,” Eden said.
The city, Eden said, will continue to use current methods of deploying storm spotters and real-time radar monitoring.
Johnson County Emergency Manager Dan Robeson said on Tuesday that warning sirens were not sounded in Johnson County because spotters did not report seeing any tornadoes, and the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill did not issue a tornado warning for the area.
“We don’t want to overwarn the public,” Robeson said.
The National Weather Service determined that an EFO tornado touched down about 7:52 p.m. near Ironwoods Park at 147th Street and Mission Road.