Rolling electrical power outages have prompted some area school districts to cancel distance learning and go to instruction-free snow days.

"You can't expect teachers or students to be able to comply when they don't have power," Oktaha Superintendent Jerry Needham said. "We were going to do distance learning this week, but due to the rolling blackout, which would cut your power and internet service, we have gone to snow days."

Hilldale and Muskogee Public Schools said they plan to put students on snow days through Friday.

OG&E initiated hourly rolling service interruptions through Wednesday. Outages were directed by the Southwest Power Pool, a utility that manages the electric grid and wholesale power market for the central United States, including Oklahoma and Texas. According to the AccuWeather website, more than 3.8 million people in Texas were without power on Tuesday. 

The Southwest Power Pool mandates participating utilities to have the service interruptions to help manage the regional system load with interruptions lasting one to two hours.

Muskogee Public Schools Chief Operating and Technology Officer Eric Wells said the rolling outages have kept many MPS students from being able to access the internet.

"They don't have a hotspot or any other means of access," Wells said. "Of course, if their batteries were to die, they're out for that duration of the rolling blackout."

He said most of the students' laptops have programs that "phone back home" to district servers. He said the MPS data center has had power throughout the week and has a generator.

"Our concern is that it's a natural gas generator," he said. "With the natural gas shortages, the squeeze is on with that. If the data center were to lose power, we would probably look at not running the generator due to the disaster we are in."

In a notice to parents, MPS Superintendent Jarod Mendenhall said the three snow days will be made up at the end of the school year.

Hilldale built in three snow make-up days in April, Superintendent Erik Puckett said. Make-up days will be April 16, 23 and 30.

"Power outages are definitely a concern, but also is the weather," Puckett said. "People are concerned about just having heat and food and other things for their child." 

He said he had been communicating with principals through the morning Tuesday. 

"They might lose power for 30, 45 minutes or an hour, then it would be back," Puckett said. "I know we had teachers who were trying to Zoom with kids."

The rolling blackouts also affect school buildings, Wells said. For example, a power outage at Muskogee High School prompted concern about potentially frozen sprinkler or pipes in one building.

"It took us a while to get those heaters back on," Wells said. "It's been tough for our facilities and maintenance to keep up and keep pipes from freezing."

Fort Gibson Public Schools will continue to have school online, but with modifications, Superintendent Scott Farmer said. The district will be out Friday for a scheduled professional day. 

"We are modifying our lessons to where they don't have to log in every hour live," Farmer said. "You log into Google Classroom when you do have power."

Teachers will post assignments and videos on Google Classroom.

Fort Gibson also plans to deliver food to the families in need later this week, Farmer said. 

"We are working with our teachers to identify families who could be food-insecure," he said. "We will deliver meals on Thursday, a week's worth of meals."

He said families in Fort Gibson Schools who feel they might need help can contact the school office. 

"We're doing all we can to keep our kids' minds where they need to be," he said. "Keep them focused on other things besides cold temperatures. Offering support where we can."

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