ATLANTA — Thousands of students in the Atlanta area spent Tuesday night at school or, in some cases, even on buses because of a snowstorm that froze up traffic around the region.
Fulton County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said that the traffic congestion made it difficult to get students and staff home on Tuesday.
"In many cases, schools had to provide shelter overnight to students and even opened their doors to other stranded motorists," Avossa said. "We also had several buses with students that were unable to navigate the roads and had to wait for help."
Atlanta Public Schools called an emergency “shelter in place” for all students and staff who remained in schools due to the inclement weather and adverse road conditions on Tuesday evening.
"We will continue to transport students who are already en route on buses, and parents will still be permitted to pick up students," Atlanta district officials said. "For students who are sheltered in our schools, we will ensure proper security, supervision and food."
In Fulton County Schools, gymnasiums and cafeterias became makeshift dormitories as students slept on tumbling mats, carpeting and other soft surfaces. Teachers and other staff members supervised as students watched movies, read books and played games to pass the time. District officials said that schools kept in regular contact with parents, or let children use the school phones, to reassure them that children were safe, warm and receiving meals.
About 2,900 Fulton students spent Tuesday night at 66 schools throughout the district. On Wednesday, as road conditions improved enough for safe school bus travel, students were transported home.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced on Wednesday evening that all schoolchildren in the metro Atlanta area had been returned safely to their families. Under Deal’s orders, the National Guard and Georgia State Patrol assisted local districts in completing the transfers, including coming to the aid of stuck school buses.
“Metro Atlanta’s children are home safe and sound, and I would like to thank all of the dedicated school officials, guardsmen and law enforcement who worked through the night to reunite worried families,” Deal said. “Yesterday, I ordered the Guard to prioritize stranded school buses full of students. With Humvees, they were able to get the buses moving and deliver food and water to the students. Last night, we had at least 95 immobile buses. We had cleared them all by this morning, and that was a big task. Our next task was getting students home from school, and now we have achieved that."
Avossa, the Fulton County Schools superintendent, said that the district decided to close early on Tuesday based on information from meteorologists and emergency management experts, but the storm "came in faster and more severe than forecasted."
While some parents and employees suggested that school should have been called off earlier, Avossa said that "this may not have changed the outcome, since several surrounding school systems did that but still experienced similar problems."
The Fulton superintendent praised district staff members' response to the ordeal.
"If we have any good news to report, it's that we have seen the best of our teachers, bus drivers, school leaders, and other employees and volunteers," Avossa said. "When faced with the option of returning to their own homes to be with their own families, they put the needs of Fulton's children first. In these difficult moments, they exhibited tremendous patience and courage, whether it was care of a child, navigating difficult roads, answering phones around the clock or simply offering shelter to another stranded motorist."
Schools and administrative offices in Fulton, Atlanta and other districts in the area remained closed on Thursday.