Cherokee County School District schools and offices, along with Reinhardt University and Cherokee Charter Academy, were scheduled to remain closed Thursday, as emergency crews continued to clean up the mess left by the severe winter storm.
School district spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby said the decision to hold school Tuesday morning was made using the most recent data from the National Weather Service.
“Had the speed and severity of the weather been known, a different decision would have been made, as there is nothing more important to the school district and its employees than the safety of students,” Jacoby said Wednesday. “We understand everyone’s frustration with the transportation issues that occurred on Tuesday for CCSD and neighboring school systems, and are thankful for the great patience we have seen shown by parents.”
Cherokee district schools dismissed students two hours early across the county Tuesday, but for some it wasn’t soon enough.
Creekview High School Principal Dr. Adrian Thomason said about 80 to 100 students weren’t able to get home after buses stopped running Tuesday. The students were brought back to school for shelter.
Thomason said some parents were able to pick up students to take them home from Creekview throughout the evening Tuesday, and 24 students ended up spending the night.
“Lots of our parents have four-wheel drive … Honestly, we’ve got good Samaritans helping. We have the kids call their
parents and see if it’s OK to ride with these individuals, and the parent say ‘Please, that’d be awesome,” Thomason said Wednesday afternoon. “We had a gentleman show up at 2:30 in the morning on a four-wheeler to get his kid.”
Many schools across metro Atlanta sheltered students Tuesday night, including schools in DeKalb, Marietta, Cobb, Fulton and Atlanta.
Jacoby said Cherokee schools sheltered about 25 students at five different elementary schools across the county, and about 400 students at 13 middle and high schools, after roads became treacherous Tuesday night.
Many parents were able to pick up their children throughout the night and early Wednesday morning, leaving about 70 students by mid-morning, Jacoby said.
“Students were either being picked up by parents or were being transported home in four-wheel drive vehicles by CCSD or public safety agencies’ staff, or by volunteers,” Jacoby said Wednesday. “We greatly appreciate the support we’ve received from public safety agencies and from community volunteers.”
Some buses were stranded on icy roads, and other turned around to deliver students back to schools, after conditions worsened Tuesday afternoon, Jacoby said.
“Cherokee Fire and Emergency Services assisted in getting kids home or back to school,” Jacoby said. “We greatly appreciate our staff especially the bus drivers who safely delivered students home, the teachers and administrators who stayed late for reunions and those who still are sheltering students at schools.”
Jacoby said public safety agencies throughout the county, along with community volunteers, offered crucial support during the emergency efforts.
Robby Westbrook, director of Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management Agency, said most children were trapped in schools along and south of Highway 20, as that was one of the worst hit areas in Cherokee.
Thomason said three assistant principals, the school police officer, one teacher and he stayed overnight with the students.
“It’s not the kid’s fault; it’s not the parent’s fault; it just happened, so my administrative team said, ‘Let’s make lemonade out of lemons,’” Thomason said. “So we were in the media center for a while, we watched a movie, we have a coffee shop here so we had some Frappuccinos and coffee, and they popped some microwave popcorn and we went to the gym for some late-night basketball.”
Thomason said the boys stayed in the gym and the girls stayed in the media center, and all the students were well-behaved, despite odd circumstances, he said.
“They were quiet and respectful, and what more can you ask from kids? They were great,” Thomason said. “And I’ve got a super team of administrators here … I’m so proud of my kids and the way they acted, and my administrative team just made it happen.”
The Creekview staff pulled together a meal of fresh pizza, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drink for the students, Thomason said.
“Most of the ones that were left were the ones from up in the Ball Ground area where the roads really get bad,” he said. “One of my teachers had some microfiber throws and games in his room that he brought down before he left, and our health care science room has some linens, so we were sort of a makeshift hotel. We had the resources to do it, we had pillows and sheets.”
Thomason said the response from parents was mostly of concern and gratefulness for their children’s safety.
“Our parents’ main concern was, ‘Is my kid OK? Is my kid safe?’ And once we assured them we were warm and safe, then they were OK,” he said. “Honestly, that’s just our community. They’re gracious and kind, and they understand we’re doing the best we can. We didn’t really have a whole lot of negative energy about it.”