What the superintendents said about staying open

Metro school superintendents blamed the weather forecast, the suddenness of the storm and, occasionally, themselves for Tuesday’s disaster of abandoned buses and stranded children. Culled from statements issued or comments uttered last week:

Robert Avossa, Fulton County

From a statement issued Wednesday: The decision made yesterday to close early was based on information we received from meteorologists and emergency management experts… . But even with that information, the winter storm came in faster and more severe than forecasted. The target area for the storm also changed from south of Fulton County to more north.

Frank Petruzielo, Cherokee County

From a statement issued Thursday: We based our decision to hold classes on Tuesday and the subsequent decision to close early using the most recent weather information available… . Had we or our neighboring school systems known the speed or severity of this storm further in advance, we would never have held school on Tuesday.

Jay Dillon, Cobb County schools spokesman

From an email to the AJC Wednesday: Based on the weather reports and other information we had late Monday night and into Tuesday morning, there was no reason for us to believe that a major weather event would impact the northern Atlanta suburbs the way it did, beginning at 9 a.m… . Had the forecasts suggested that would take place, we would have canceled school.

Alvin Wilbanks, Gwinnett

From an interview Thursday: We were discussing 4 a.m. in the morning [Tuesday] about the day, and we decided according to all reports we could get, we could get a day of school in… . The overwhelming majority of our students were home on time.” [Of all metro districts, Gwinnett had perhaps the fewest problems, followed by DeKalb.]

Michael Thurmond, DeKalb County

From an interview Friday: [Thurmond saw the 3:30 a.m. storm warning at 4 a.m. and reasoned the forecast could just as easily change again. He decided to open the schools but also knew there was a chance they would close early. Bus drivers, who normally go home after their morning runs, were told to park near the school and stay with the bus instead.] We were getting reports that it was beginning to ice up in west metro, and we knew it was coming. And I told them, “Let’s move.” This is the reason we had six kids [stranded] and not hundreds. We told the drivers to stay close to the schools.”

Erroll Davis, Atlanta

From a statement on Thursday: I certainly want to apologize to the students, and their families, who were stranded overnight on buses. I also want to apologize for the challenges and difficulties that our students, families and employees have faced over the past few days… . If we had to repeat this scenario, we would do things differently.

Stuart Gulley, president, Woodward Academy

Letter to school community Wednesday: I apologize. Words cannot express fully the deep regret I feel for the unimaginable horror so many members of our community experienced yesterday in their commute home. Hindsight is always much clearer, and from that perspective the decision to release at 1:40, even to have conducted school at all, was wrong… . We have (and will) learn lessons from yesterday’s episode.

Number of students stranded

According to the governor’s office:

Fulton County: 25,000 students as of 6 p.m. Tuesday, 5,000 as of 9 p.m., 2,000 as of Wednesday morning, 500 as of Wednesday early afternoon

APS: 1,500 students as of Tuesday evening, 1,000 students as of 9 p.m., 400 students as of Wednesday morning

Marietta: 1,400 students as of 9 p.m. Tuesday, 480 as of Wednesday morning, 13 as of Wednesday afternoon

Douglas County: 800-900 students stayed overnight Tuesday in 23 schools. By Wednesday morning, the number had shrunk to 220 students.

Cobb: 1,500 to 2,000 students as of 9 p.m. and 320 students overnight

Gwinnett: No children stranded overnight

DeKalb: Six students were sheltered in a police precinct Tuesday night

Cherokee: 415 students were sheltered overnight Tuesday, with that number shrinking to 50 as of Wednesday morning

Decision timeline

8:11 p.m. Monday: Atlanta Public Schools tweets, “The district tries not to release students midday, however, there is always a slight chance of that possibility.”

11:23 a.m. Tuesday: Cobb County Schools tweets that all students will be dismissed two hours early.

11:48 a.m.: Atlanta Public Schools announces it will dismiss middle school students early, at 1:30 p.m., while elementary school students would leave at 2:30 p.m. and high school students at 3:30 p.m.

11:52 a.m.: DeKalb County Schools says it will dismiss students starting at 1:30 p.m.

Noon to 1 p.m.: Gwinnett County Schools decides to end classes at the regular time, unlike other districts that shut down early.

1:37 p.m.: Fulton County Schools tweets that all students would be dismissed at 1:45 p.m.