After mixed reaction, DeKalb super says closing schools was safe call

DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green in a file photo.

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DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green in a file photo.

On Thursday night, DeKalb County Schools Superintendent Steve Green and more than a dozen of his cabinet members had a conference about whether to have class the next day after a section of I-85 collapsed.

Though the damage, caused by a fire under the elevated road, was in Fulton County, DeKalb decided to close schools Friday, even as Atlanta Public Schools elected to stay open.

Atlanta Public Schools officials said at least 40 bus routes were affected Friday morning. North Atlanta High School and nearby elementary and middle schools were the hardest hit.

On Friday morning, buses staged at North Atlanta High School in advance of their routes and bus drivers arrived early.

"We had a plan in place, which worked well and we were able to make adjustments along the way,” APS Executive Director of Transportation John Franklin said.

Green said Friday morning that, even after some mixed reactions, he was pleased with the call to start spring break a day early.

“When it happens in an evening like this there’s not a lot of time,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “(State and local officials) were scrambling to catch up to a major catastrophic situation.”

Had school been in session Friday, it would’ve forced students, staff and teachers to use unfamiliar — and likely traffic-choked — routes. That would include school buses going to schools near I-85, and bus drivers, staff and teachers commuting from outside the county.

Green also pointed out that some schools, such as charter schools, have students from all over DeKalb.

Particularly on social media, the district caught some mostly good-natured flak because so many of DeKalb's schools are far from the interstate. But "equity issues" could arise if only some schools were closed as it would put some students farther along in curriculum.

“I'm a little disappointed because my high-schooler and his class were going to attend special Olympics today,” Lakeside High mother Karen Weitzel said. “But I completely understand and I think keeping all the school traffic off the roads will help.”

Multiple other parents told the AJC they are supportive of the decision to cancel school.

Tyler Parsons, a Livsey Elementary parent, said he understood the decision but thought it was a “bit of a stretch.”

“My wife is fortunate enough to already have a planned day off, so it is no big deal for us,” he said. “Families with two working parents, or especially those with a single working parent, are going to be scrambling for child care since the notice was given so late in the evening.”

It isn't yet clear how long it will take for repairs to the interstate. The state said Friday morning both the southbound side of I-85 near Piedmont Road and the collapsed northbound side need work. The fire was still burning, keeping crews from totally assessing the damage.

But by the time students return from spring break, the DeKalb superintendent is hopeful Atlanta’s traffic woes will be more defined than on Friday.

“We’ll be working very closely with the department of transportation,” he said. “It’ll be more stable and there will be more time for thoughtful planning.”

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WATCH: Atlanta I-85 Fire Causes Bridge Collapse