Relative to the mess in Atlanta, Fayette schools fared pretty well in the midst of last week's snow storm. School Superintendent Dr. Jody Barrow penned a letter to students, parents, and staff explaining how decisions were made and taking full responsibility for the final decision not to call off school Tuesday, when the storm hit.
"In looking at the possible modification of the school day, or closure of school, there are a myriad of factors that we take into consideration," Barrow wrote, "but my first and most important consideration is always based on what is best to ensure the safety and well-being of our children and staff."
Barrow offered a little insight into what happens behind the scenes when school closure is being discussed. Administration, he writes, monitors the most up to date weather reports while also having "multiple conversations with regional superintendents" as well as consultations with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA), National Weather Service, Fayette County Sheriff's Department, police departments, and county/city public works departments. These considerations are factored in with the "importance of lost instructional time and how that will potentially impact student achievement and performance," along with concerns about students with parents who work being home alone or released early when nobody is home. Barrow also wrote that administration considers that "some of our children live in economically depressed circumstances, and that if the children are not in school, they may not have enough to eat or be able to stay warm during the day."
Barrow wrote that the process is collaborative but that he is "ultimately the person who makes the final decision. So, when that decision is made, right or wrong, it is not the fault of the board, the building principals, or the central office staff. The full responsibility of that decision rests with me."
The situation on Tuesday was fluid and quick decisions had to be made as the weather changed quickly. In the morning, the decision was made to release all schools thirty minutes early to head off the weather (elementary at 1:55, middle at 2:45, and high at 3:15). That ended up being a little optimistic as the weather struck swiftly a little after noon and roadways very quickly became icy. At that point, the decision was made to release all schools at 1:30, with student drivers at the high school level allowed to leave and students boarding the bus at 1:30 for elementary, 2:15 for middle, and 2:45 for high.
Road conditions were tricky for bus drivers as they were for everyone, but all students were home by 7:00 p.m. and there was only one accident, according to Deputy Superintendent Sam Sweat, which was not the fault of the bus driver and did not result in any injuries.
Barrow emphasized that while "predictions" are made on the best available information, Tuesday's weather "changed very quickly."
"In some cases we look like heroes and in other cases we look rather silly," Barrow wrote. "In most cases, thankfully, we get it right. In some cases where we don't hit the target, we have those who question the decision. That is to be expected and comes with the responsibilities of leadership. I accept that full responsibility and the criticism that has been expressed."
Despite the early release times, Tuesday goes on the record as a school day, but the three lost days from last week and two from earlier in January (due to extremely cold temperatures) are over the state's limit allowing four missed days before makeup days must be scheduled.
Barrow said the question of makeup days is still up in the air. In the short term, he said there will be nothing done to disrupt winter break this month.
"It is my understanding that a resolution is being developed by the State School Superintendent Dr. John Barge to submit to the State Board of Education with the request to allow 'flexibility' for the severe weather days that we have encountered," Barrow wrote in a separate letter. He said action on the resolution is not likely to happen until later this month when the state board meets.
In concluding his letter, Barrow wrote: "I can assure this community that I will continue to keep our children's safety as our district's number one priority; after all I'm not just your Superintendent, I also have first graders who attend Fayette County Public Schools."