By Keith Reid
Record Staff Writer
July 26, 2012 12:00 AM
STOCKTON - Michael Montes, a student at Walton Development Center, wore a neon green identification sticker on his back and held his teacher's hand while waiting to board a bus outside his classroom Wednesday morning.
An emergency evacuation was under way.
The challenges are many for Stockton Unified School District in evacuating this school for developmentally disabled students. Most of them do not speak or walk. Some need constant medical attention.
The good news Wednesday: It was only a drill.
"This is an evacuation drill that we've been planning for a year," said Principal Thomas Whitesides prior to calling the drill. "We told the staff it would be sometime this week. They didn't know when."
It was the first time in the special school's four-decade history that officials have coordinated an evacuation drill. Unlike most schools, where students and staff can follow instructions and leave campus quickly during an emergency, the children at Walton must be assisted by adults and handled with care.
Of 125 students, 52 of them are in wheelchairs. Some of them are on feeding tubes and others require medical equipment. Some use diapers, and some must have cold towels on hand to avoid a heat-related seizure.
Whitesides called for the evacuation at 9:15 a.m.
Teachers and staff prepared their students to leave. Ten buses arrived 15 minutes later.
"The biggest thing right now (for students) is the disruption in routine," said teacher Nicholas Pufnock. "Routine is very important to them. They are doing extraordinarily well considering we are breaking that routine."
Loading students into buses took about 30 minutes, which was satisfactory for school officials because wheelchair ramps can only handle one at a time. All together, the evacuation took 45 minutes to complete.
West said in the event of a fire, the students would be taken somewhere safe off campus before boarding the buses.
If a flood from the nearby Calaveras River occurred, there would normally be hours of warning that the levee could break.
School officials hope an evacuation at the school will never be necessary. However, Walton officials nearly made that call recently when a nearby laundromat caught fire.
Stockton Unified Health and Emergency Services administrator Tammy Evans said the district also must plan to make sure any site where the Walton students are transported to, in the event of an emergency, is set up to accommodate their special needs.
"We need to be fully prepared," she said.
Contact reporter Keith Reid at (209) 546-8257 firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/lodiblog