There was a lot of Saturday morning quarterbacking going on this weekend with Wilson County school officials, who basically said in hindsight they should have made the call to keep school closed Friday. They said they would recalibrate specific decision-making snow-related policies for the future.
Erring on the side of caution Friday would have prevented a lot of anxiety and social media venting from irritated and worried parents. However, school officials said while the wrong call was made, they are meeting this week to reevaluate snow day procedures and work toward future best and safest decisions as possible.
Admittedly a guessing game, the region's oddly fickle weather had school officials in the lurch Friday when a weather system packed more of an icy wallop than expected and resulted in school bus drivers getting students to school on time, only to turn around and navigate treacherous roads to get them back home safely.
"We generally try to make a call by 5 a.m., and unfortunately, the snow came our way around 6:30 a.m.," said Wilson County Schools Public Information Officer Jennifer Johnson. "It [snow] was predicted to stay south of us, but predictions are often wrong, and this one was. Looking back, we wish we would have cancelled school, but we didn't, so we just have to take this in stride and learn from it. Parents get upset when we cancel school, and the snow misses us. This time, we didn't cancel school, and the weather hit at the worst possible time."
The first significant snowfall this winter hit at a really bad time with more than 300 crashes reported across the Nashville area Friday morning. Wilson County Schools and other school systems decided to open, then closed abruptly when things got worse on the roads.
In the end on Friday, Wilson County schools, which started at 7 a.m., were let out at 11:15 a.m. and those which opened at 8 a.m. were dismissed at 12:30 p.m. The staggered closings accommodated bus drivers who run two routes. School officials confirmed buses did not run on early dismissal in Watertown because the conditions were so bad, and two Lakeview Elementary School buses ran off the road after dismissal. One did not have students aboard, while another had 12 students who were unhurt and immediately transported back to school and their parents contacted.
"We also wanted to make sure we gave parents enough notice so children didn't go home to an empty house," Johnson explained. "The roads in Watertown were not safe enough to travel on, so we had parents pick children up instead. We had a contingency plan in place and were in discussions with WEMA (Wilson County Emergency Management Agency) to get children home, in the event that there was no way a parent could pick them up. Fortunately, it didn't come to that. All students were home by 3:30 p.m."
"We always learn from situations, but because each weather-related incident is unique, it's impossible for us to guarantee we're going to get it right," Johnson said. "We have to make the best decision we can with the information we have and hope for the best. It doesn't always work out the way we want it to. It certainly didn't today [Friday], but we will have to take our lumps and try to do better next time. We're not the only school system to be blindsided by this. That's not an excuse. It's just a fact."
County schools started two hours late on Monday due to some icy conditions on secondary roads. There were no reported school bus incidents.
"We understand some parents were concerned about the timing of dismissal, but we felt like it was the best way to get students home in a safe and orderly fashion," Wilson County Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright said Friday. "By staggering the times and waiting until later in the day, we had ample time to notify parents, so they had time to return home or pick their children up. We were fortunate that all ended well, which is something I never take for granted."
Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.