School leaders explain process
by JOYANNA LOVE Banner Senior Staff Writer and DELANEY WALKER Banner Staff Writer
Jan 29, 2014 | 5901 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Bradley County and Cleveland City school directors took a moment this morning to explain why schools were let out at a time many thought was too late Tuesday morning.

Director of Cleveland City Schools Dr. Martin Ringstaff said the school system was in communication with emergency services throughout the morning. Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley County Schools, said he was monitoring the weather Monday night and forecasts were calling for flurries in Bradley County. The majority of the precipitation was thought to go south and miss most of Bradley County.

McDaniel said he remained in communication with Bradley County Sheriff's Office Capt. W.G. Campbell and EMA director Troy Spence early Tuesday morning.

“Early in the morning both of them thought that we were just going to have flurries,” McDaniel said.

After the snow began, Bradley Emergency Management Agency and Campbell initially advised keeping children at school would be the safest option. At that time, local agencies still thought the snow would not accumulate, and could stop before regular dismissal time.

“When the students are at school they are safe ... you kind of wait to see if it is going to clear,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel attended a weather briefing at the 911 Center at 10:30 a.m. and then made the decision to close school. The briefing revealed that the snow system had taken a northern path and Bradley County would see accumulation.

The county schools director reported schools had begun serving lunch early in anticipation of an early dismissal.

“We had been in contact with EMA all morning when the snow started,” Ringstaff said.

The city schools director said he made the decision to close right then when he realized the snow was going to stick.

Dismissal was set for 11:30 a.m. Ringstaff explained while the decision was made to close schools before 10:30, extra time was needed to allow bus drivers and parents to make preparations for early dismissal.

At 10:18, Ringstaff tweeted out that schools would be closing. Students with cars were then released from Cleveland High School.

Both school systems dismissed high school and middle school students early first. The decision was based on the knowledge many older students with younger siblings in the school system would need to be home before the elementary-age students. This was especially true for children whose parents would not be home in time.

Traffic congestion due to an accident on Georgetown Road kept Cleveland Middle School students from being able to leave. Buses were also stuck at the middle school once Georgetown Road shut down. The buses were unable to drop off middle school students or pick up students from Ross, Yates and Stuart elementary schools until traffic cleared at 2:30 p.m.

Ringstaff said students at the school were safe, fed and warm.

“The kids were never in any type of trouble. They were safe. We had to play out our part with local services to get the roads open. Once the roads were open we got the kids home,” Ringstaff said.

Bradley County Schools, which has contracts for its bus service, had some schoolbuses out of commission because the drivers could not get out of their neighborhoods to the schools. This meant some of the county buses had to run multiple routes. In addition, some students were returned to school when their bus was unable to make it to their house.

According to McDaniel, buses stayed on the main roads to avoid getting stuck.

McDaniel said there were about 120 students still waiting to be picked up at 4 p.m.

Students from both school systems were taken to Ocoee Middle School with the help of bus drivers, EMA and Bradley County Fire and Rescue.

Ringstaff said 30 students from Cleveland Middle School and one student from Mayfield Elementary were taken to Ocoee Middle School to wait for a ride. All students were picked up by or before 7 p.m. Bradley County Fire and Rescue helped to drop students off (with parental permission).

The Bradley County and Cleveland City school systems have received mixed reviews from the public concerning the decision to keep students at school.

Responses on the Cleveland Daily Banner Facebook page ranged from angry to understanding

“It was chaos but both school systems went above and beyond to make sure every child was taken care of in the end. And really, that's all that matters,” Diana Evans said.

Dustin Henderson said he thinks the schools should have closed the day before.

“... better to error on the side of caution,” Henderson said. “We as parents could have kept our children home as well. I know mine were gonna stay home today regardless of school being open or not! They missed this one but hey everyone misses sometimes.”

Some parents shared frustration with not being notified of the early dismissal, having trouble finding their children or driving in difficult conditions.

“Regardless of how many snow days they have left, they should have called school off at 9:00,” Jamie Hancock wrote. “I left to pick my kids up at 10:30. If I could see the road from my house I would have left sooner! There were wrecks everywhere. I didn't get home til after 2:00. It was a mess!”

School directors said they made the decisions they did Tuesday based on the information available to them at the time.

“If snow from 10 o’clock to 8 o’clock had been forecast then no one would have been in school. We did the very best we could because no one knew [the conditions],” Ringstaff said. “We’ve looked back and we’ve evaluated. We have done self-checks to see what we could have done better. The plan went into place to get every one home. It was unfortunate that did not go as smoothly as we wanted. It did not go smoothly for anyone.”