Local News

Safety tops reasons for early school dismissals

Posted January 10, 2011 4:53 p.m. EST
Updated January 10, 2011 7:06 p.m. EST

— School administrators say safety and travel concerns prompted their decisions to send students home early Monday in advance of a winter storm expected to drop snow and ice across much of the state.

The Wake County Public School System was one of more than a dozen school districts who decided Sunday to dismiss early.

Obviously, we understand it can be inconvenient,” school district spokesman Greg Thomas said. “But as much notice as possible is our goal in making those calls.”

Part of the reason, Thomas said, had to do with a weather event nearly six years ago that caused major gridlock on roads across Wake County.

Snow started falling unexpectedly in the afternoon on Jan. 19, 2005, leading the school system to close school early.

Parents had little time to make plans, and the influx of vehicles on roads from parents trying to pick up their children from school and employees leaving work early caused traffic issues, leaving school buses and even crews trying to treat roads stuck in traffic.

Some school buses also ended up returning to school so as not to be caught in the chaos.

About a half inch of snow fell during the unexpected event, but about 3,000 students were stranded overnight in schools, and motorists were stuck in traffic for hours.

“Really, you need to go the conservative, safe route,” Thomas said. “An early dismissal felt like the best thing to do.”

For many working parents, however, the dismissal, no matter how far in advance it is planned, presents complications.

“I work in Morrisville, but the kids’ school is in Wake Forest,” said Lakisha Zagner, a single working mother of two. “I have to make job arrangements, and of course, I’m missing hours of my job. It’s tough.”

“It happens, and you just have to deal with it as a parent, but it definitely is a trial,” said Amy Friedman, a parent of two whose children attend The Raleigh School, an independent elementary school in Raleigh.

Harriet Lasher, who heads The Raleigh School, said she usually follows Wake County's decisions on weather scheduling. While safety is her top priority, she said she understands the decision has a big impact on families.

“First of all, it affects instructional time, and second of all, it's an inconvenience to people, especially when both parents are working,” Lasher said.

Light snow was possible across the Raleigh area Monday afternoon before any precipitation falls in the form of sleet and freezing rain.

Snow fell across parts of western and central North Carolina earlier Monday, dropping anywhere from 3 to 6 inches.

By 7 p.m. Monday, a handful of school systems, including Chatham, Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston and Moore, decided to close schools Tuesday. (View a list of complete closings and delays.)

Wake County said schools will be operating on a two-hour delay Tuesday but that transportation officials would be monitoring road conditions overnight.