The winter storm that crippled the South on Tuesday unexpectedly turned school cafeterias and buses into shelters for stranded students in the Atlanta-area.
According to a story in Wednesday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, parents were frustrated and angry about the lack of sufficient and accurate information about how their children would get home safely.
More than 10,000 students hadn’t arrived home as of 9 p.m. Tuesday, according to estimates released by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s office. By Wednesday afternoon, the Journal-Constitution said a few students were still waiting for a way home.
One parent walked for three hours covering six miles to spend Tuesday night with his 5-year-old daughter at E. Rivers Elementary School in Atlanta. Another parent, Anneqah Ferguson, told the newspaper that a group of Riverwood High School students slept on their school bus on I-285 Tuesday before they were taken to a nearby Kroger grocery store.
“We’re upset because the school didn’t reach out to us to [let us] know what was going on,” said Ferguson. “We can’t get to them. We’re iced in. We don’t really know what the next steps are.”
Parent Elisa Gambino traveled icy roads in her SUV to pick up her freshman daughter and two other students after 10 p.m. Tuesday at North Atlanta High School.
“I didn’t even get a call saying kids were staying the night. The communication was horrendous,” Gambino told the Journal-Constitution. “I don’t understand the rationale of when they see a storm coming, they didn’t just keep the kids at home. I just don’t understand why they sent the kids to school. It was so dangerous out there.”
But here’s the million-dollar question that haunts many school administrators across the nation: When should an administrator close the schools?
I’ve lived in some of the coldest and snowiest cities in North America—Syracuse, N.Y. and Ottawa, Canada. As a student, and now as a parent, the decision to close a school or dismiss students early sends families scrambling for rides and child care. (One frigid, snowy day as an elementary school student, I got frostbite on my ear waiting for a school bus that never came.)
Parents either laud school administrators for keeping their kids out of the storm’s harmful path or vilify them for having to rearrange their workday when weather worries don’t pan out.
These are complex decisions that aren’t made lightly. They don’t rest on local television meteorologist weather reports, either. But in Atlanta, the finger-pointing and apologies are well underway, according to another Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.
While it’s still unclear who or what is to blame for forcing many students to spend the night on gym mats and bus seats instead of their beds Tuesday, it appears that a perfect storm of snow, ice, and a healthy helping of misguided government leadership are contributing factors. I’m sure the snow and ice will melt long before state and city leaders sort out the mess created by this week’s winter storm.
A version of this news article first appeared in the K-12 Parents and the Public blog.