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LETTER: School safety is priority

The following letter was obtained by The SNAP from Stanly County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff James:

Dear parents/guardians and staff,

I want to thank all of you for your patience and prayers during a rather unpredictable and intense storm on Thursday. Our goal was to ensure all of you that your safety is always our main concern. My administration has never and will never in my tenure make any unilateral decisions when it comes to safety. We work as a team evaluating conditions and facts as given to us.

We have been in contact with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), state and local emergency management officials since Tuesday. All-weather advisory information indicated the storm was predicted to bring heavy rains starting at 5 p.m., Thursday.

With this forecast, there was no reason to change our school schedule.
Thursday at 8 a.m., the storm had increased in ground speed, thus putting its arrival to Stanly County at 3 p.m. The state briefing at approximately 10-10:30 a.m. updated local emergency management on the storm. Discussion with local emergency management about the storm situation resulted in making the decision to release schools early to ensure safe travel for our students and staff.

Our team began checking with surrounding districts. When districts north and west of Stanly County confirmed an early release for students, our team also started the process to release students two hours early.

At 10:45 a.m., we received an update from emergency management stating the storm was moving through northern Georgia and part of Tennessee. The storm system increased in intensity with possible tornadic activity.

We discussed busing and dismissal with emergency management and the team. Knowing it takes 1.5 hours to fully complete loading and return to school for our buses, the decision was made to stay with our early release time.

At 11:30 a.m. we received a tornado watch, which requires us to implement our state-approved safety plan “shelter in place.” This alert preempts any other decisions and we heeded the warning to take shelter.

As conditions were changing rapidly, at approximately 12:30 p.m., we received another emergency management update that yet another storm was approaching 45 minutes behind the current storm. “Do Not Put Buses on the Road,” was the clear message we received.

At 1:40 p.m. we received the all clear update. We agreed to stay in touch with local emergency teams informing them of where they could help if buses ran into trouble with blocked roads.

At the end of the day, 8,400 students and 1,400 staff members got home safely.

Unfortunately, no matter what decisions are made, there are always experts who would have done it differently. If we had listened to these individuals, the outcome would have placed our students on buses in the middle of two significant storms. Therefore, for the critics, if you think we lack wisdom in making life-saving decisions, then pray that God would increase our knowledge.

Our mission was planned and executed without a single student or staff member being harmed.

I appreciate all of you for trusting me and our administration to make decisions based on the facts given to us from emergency management. It is always our first priority to protect our students and staff.