The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Slippery, snowy roads left students stranded in school Tuesday as parents waded through paralyzing traffic and buses struggled to arrive, hours after school was dismissed early.
Some schools braced for the possibility that students might have to sleep at school overnight if no one could reach them on slick roads.
“We definitely might be pulling an all-nighter here,” said Thomas Algarin, spokesman for Marietta City Schools.
After school was abruptly cancelled mid-day as the snow storm approached, parents got caught in snarling traffic in efforts to get home safely before conditions worsened further.
Kim Sherman, the mother of three North Fulton students, called the school system’s handling of the weather a “debacle.”
Sherman said she was disappointed in the school system because officials had been discussing the weather since the night before. And when the decision to close was made, her only notice was at the last minute, by an email delivered at 1:45 p.m., as school was closing. She got no text messages or phone calls, and only saw the email after she got home the first time, with her girls.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Sherman said. “I have lost complete faith in my Fulton County school board.”
Some students were still waiting for rides Tuesday night, with school districts making plans to feed students and keep them warm. Hundreds of students were stranded at Barber Middle School in Cobb County, and students at North Atlanta High were still waiting for buses to arrive four hours after school let out at 3:30 p.m. Students were also remaining at several Fulton County schools.
Roads were in such bad shape that Marietta City Schools and Cherokee and Bartow counties north of Kennesaw suspended school bus service, asking students to remain at school until parents could pick them up.
“They seriously miscalculated,” said Marcus Reed, who drove 90 minutes over five miles of side roads to fetch his eighth-grade son Payton and sixth-grade daughter Marlyn from Sandtown Middle School in Fulton County. “I know every school day is precious, but they shouldn’t have had school today.”
At Keheley Elementary School in Cobb County, Principal Liz Jackson stayed behind to care for two kindergartners whose parents had been trying for hours to reach them.
Jen Hancock, a mother of two in North Fulton, said she was “very annoyed” by the school district’s last-minute decision to close early.
She said she was irritated that school officials cancelled school in early January because of unusually cold temperatures, “but we don’t cancel school when it’s snowing, sleeting and freezing.”
Dunwoody resident Kate Wolfe, who works in Tucker, said she left work early to pick her 3-year-old son up from daycare, but bumper-to-bumper traffic prevented her from arriving for nearly three hours.
“It’s frustrating,” she said. “I used to live in L.A., and this traffic today ranks up there with the worst I saw there.”
Some school buses couldn’t make it up hills in Cherokee County, and others were still on the roads even after the school system suspended bus service, said Debbie Rabjohn, the parent of a sophomore at River Ridge High School.
“It’s way worse than we thought it would be. They said we might get a dusting, and we probably have three inches of snow here,” she said after picking up her daughter from school.
Most metro Atlanta school systems released students early Tuesday afternoon when it became clear that snow would be significant, but some were faster than others in making their decisions.
Public school systems in the city of Atlanta, Fulton County, DeKalb County, Cobb County and Cherokee County sent children home early, but Gwinnett County didn’t.
Gwinnett County didn’t have widespread problems with getting children home, with only one elementary school in the Norcross area still holding students until parents could get them as of 7 p.m., said spokeswoman Sloan Raoch. All buses made their runs successfully, she said.
That wasn’t the case in Cobb County.
“In some cases we will not be able to get students home,” spokesman Jay Dillon said. Buses returned those kids to schools, he said. “The schools are heated, have facilities and food, so students will be safe until parents are able to pick them up.”
And Cherokee County to the north was having problems with the roads. “We still have students being sheltered at schools,” spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said.
DeKalb County schools only had a “handful” of kids awaiting their parents Tuesday evening, and there were no plans to shelter anyone overnight, said spokesman Quinn Hudson. “Nobody is stranded,” he said.
School chiefs around metro Atlanta conferred hours before the start of school Tuesday, but forecasters were still uncertain then about how far north the snow would fall, said Michael Thurmond, the DeKalb County School District superintendent.
“The weather forecast was very iffy,” he said, noting that if they’d canceled school and it hadn’t snowed, people would have been angry, too. “There will always be second guessing and disappointment with the decision.”
Schools in Fulton County initially planned to dismiss students at their normal time but reversed course when the snow hit harder and sooner than expected, said spokeswoman Susan Hale. Fulton’s announcement was made public around the same time that students were released at 1:45 p.m. Tuesday.
The forecast wasn’t reliable enough Monday night or Tuesday morning to justify canceling school at that time, said Fulton Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa.
“It wasn’t enough. It was talking about snow flurries beginning at noon and slowly building up over time, with real accumulation beginning and 4 or 5. Our thought was, ‘let’s look at that as it comes in,’ but unfortunately it came in faster,” he said.