School officials discussed the policy during a Tuesday work session at the request of board member Scott Sweeney. Any change to dismissal plans would be made internally and would not require approval from the school board.
When snow and ice crippled metro Atlanta in late January, schools across the region, including those in Cobb, sent students home early, adding more congestion to already gridlocked highways. Some bus drivers became stuck and could not return to schools to pick up additional children, forcing some students to spend the night in schools.
The new policy would change the order
of dismissal. Rather than dismissing elementary students first, like in late January, high school drivers and middle school students would be dismissed first. Elementary students and high school bus riders would follow.
Chris Ragsdale, deputy superintendent, said that allows older students, who might be responsible for the care of younger siblings, to get home in time to meet their responsibility.
“We felt like that there are more middle school-aged students that help parents with watching younger siblings than that are in high and elementary,” Ragsdale said.
During January’s snowstorm, some elementary students had to be returned to their schools because parents and siblings had not made it home to care for them.
“That just started a domino effect that continued,” Ragsdale said.
Board Chairwoman Kathy Angelucci recommends parents be well-informed of the change. On Jan. 28, schools dismissed two hours early. Parents of middle- schoolers were asked to pick up their children no later than 2:15 p.m. rather than the usual 4:15 p.m. dismissal time. Under the new policy, that time would be earlier and Angelucci said it could cause confusion.
Still, parents would be able to pick up their children earlier in the day if an early dismissal is chosen.
“We actually count on the parents coming early to help get them home,” said Superintendent Michael Hinojosa.
The school district has also purchased snow chains for some school buses.
“We may never use them again,” Ragsdale said. “We may never use them at all, but we do have them now.”
Vice Chairman Randy Scamihorn said he spent seven hours on the road after leaving a business near WellStar Kennestone Hospital traveling to his Acworth home. It wasn’t that his minivan couldn’t traverse the snow-covered roads, Scamihorn said, but that stranded vehicles and wrecks were blocking roads and intersections.
“Chains aren’t going to help us with that,” Scamihorn said.
Ragsdale agreed and said it’s impossible to be fully prepared for every scenario that might arise.
“The purchase of the chains we have made is in no way intended to be a solution,” he said.
In hindsight, Scamihorn said the district relied too heavily on information from the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, which wasn’t updated to include snow in the forecast until about 3:30 a.m.
Ragsdale said the best decision was made at the time with the information available.
“What would I do differently? We would cancel school,” Ragsdale said.