Lightning injures Unaka Elementary teacher

Published 8:27 am Friday, April 10, 2015

A Carter County elementary school teacher was injured earlier this week after lightning ran into a modular classroom during a Spring storm.

Members of the Carter County Board of Education learned about the injury at Unaka Elementary School during a workshop session on Thursday afternoon. The incident happened on Tuesday morning shortly after 11 a.m. as a Spring storm moved through the area. The teacher suffered a minor injury and no children were hurt, Schools Director Kevin Ward told the board.

“It wasn’t a direct hit; it was a near hit,” Ward said. “Some static hit the awning, and once it did, it ran in over the internet line.”

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“The teacher had her hand or elbow on the computer and when it ran in she got a shock,” Ward added.

School officials did not release the name of the teacher but said she had been seen by a doctor and had not yet returned to work.

“She’s fine. I talked to her yesterday,” Ward said. “She may be out for a week or two depending on her doctor’s visit.”

Typically when bad weather – such as strong winds or a storm -approaches, the school principals evacuate the modular units and bring those students into the main school for safety purposes.

“I’m really cautious when it’s windy or storming and I bring the kids in,” Unaka Elementary School Principal Jaclyn Wilson said. “I’m really sensitive to storms myself.”

On Tuesday, the storm arrived without enough warning to move the children, Wilson said.

“I could hear a few rumbles of thunder in the distance and then it hit us all at once,” she said. “I never saw any lightning before that happened, that’s what scares me.”

Between 75 and 80 students were in classes in the modular units when the storm came through, Wilson said. Whenever bad weather hits the area, Wilson said those students must be brought into the main school for safety, and that can disrupt the day for other students as well.

“There were some classes we had to combine to make room for the students,” Wilson said.

Many of the system’s schools face the problem of keeping students safe during bad weather due to classrooms being housed in modulars. Currently, 46 modular units house a total of 58 classrooms across the system. Several of the school system’s principals were in attendance at Thursday’s workshop and some of them also voiced safety concerns with the modulars during bad weather and how the school is impacted when students must be evacuated to the main school.

“We couldn’t put them in classrooms, there’s not enough room,” Hunter Elementary School Principal Brandon Carpenter said, adding about one-third of the students at Hunter are in modular classrooms. “We have to put them in the gym. There’s not enough space in the cafeteria.”

The school system’s use of modular classrooms has been a hot topic during recent months. During several Board of Education meetings member Craig Davis, who represents the Stoney Creek district, has voiced his opposition to and concerns with the portable classrooms. During Thursday’s workshop session, Davis questioned how long it would be before someone was seriously hurt in a modular unit due to severe weather.

“I just think enough’s enough,” Davis said, adding he would like to see the system do away with the modular units.

“Our problem is funding,” fellow board member Kelly Crain said. “Everybody here wants new schools but I don’t believe we could pass the hat here and get enough to build them.”

Recently the school system’s Facilities and Capital Improvements Committee toured five county schools to assess the facilities, and several members spoke out against continued use of the modular units.