9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. Snow is gently but steadily falling outside my window. Knowing that I live in an area where schools close at the drop of one snowflake or a cold temp, I assume that schools will be closing in my area in the near future.
9:53 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. A phone call from a friend in Chattanooga alerts me that it is snowing there, and asks me if schools are closed in Bradley County. I tell her I have received no word, and I am on the emergency call and text lists [as a parent of school system students], so I would know as soon as it happens.
11:22 a.m. I receive a text from the alert system alerting that schools are letting out at 11:30 a.m. (eight minutes); high and middle schools first, then elementary. My husband leaves the house to drive the 10 minutes to my son’s elementary school to pick him up.
12:05 p.m. My husband leaves my son’s elementary school to travel 10 minutes to my daughter’s middle school. She rides the bus. She has no cellphone. The school has not called. The school is not answering the phone.
12:10 p.m. Calls to the middle school … are students riding buses? Are students to be picked up? No answer or machine. Several calls to the Bradley County Schools system for information. Answering machine. Is my daughter getting on a bus? Is she at the school?
12:15 p.m. Trying to find my child’s bus number on the website. It is not organized by school, by bus number or by street — needle in a haystack. Finally find my street name, which corresponds with a bus number and a phone number. I call the number. A gentleman answers. He states, “I don’t know who drives that bus … I will have to look it up and call you back.” He calls back 20 minutes later and gives me the number of the bus driver. Before he hangs up he says the driver’s bus is not running. I call the number. Voice mail. Where is my child?
12:45 p.m. Call to school. No answer. Call to Bradley County Schools. No answer. Call to my husband. He hasn’t made it two miles since I last talked to him.
12:50 p.m. Bus driver calls. He is not driving his bus because of the road conditions. I thank him for using common sense and also for calling me back. My daughter is most likely at the school.
12:55 p.m. Call to Bradley County Schools. Someone answers. I am informed that some of the buses will not be running. Those that do run will be letting children off on main roads, not on their regular route. I ask, “At which main road by my home location will I be able to find my daughter if she is indeed on a bus that runs?” Unfortunately, I am told, I cannot be provided with that information because there is no plan and no main street guide for the lady at Bradley County Schools for her to access. I ask, “Is that because all of the guides are being used right now or because you don’t have one?” She responds, “Because there are none at all.” So, I ask again, which one of the two main roads will be most likely the dropoff and at what store, gas station or location? She cannot answer me because she has not been provided with the proper tools to do her job. My words, not hers.
1:15 p.m. My husband has not yet made it to the school for my daughter. Is she on another bus? Is she at the school? No one will answer at the school.
2:00 p.m. My husband has found our daughter and is trying to make it home.
2:06 p.m. Road closure alerts. My husband finally makes it home after leaving our home 2 1/2 hours earlier. He saw many cars in ditches. Teachers and principals and other school staff are still at the school waiting for pickup of all children.
3:38 p.m. Text from CBCEMA that buses are still running and every effort is being made to get the children home.
6:30 p.m. Text from CBCEMA stating that all students have been picked up or dropped off.
First, let me state a sincere and heartfelt thank-you to all of the staff at the various schools and the school administration who stayed late, putting their safety at risk to make sure that all children made it home safely. We all owe you a debt of gratitude. To you, there should be a very public and heartfelt thank-you. May you all be safe, at home and warm.
Second, although the previous night’s forecast did not specify snow of this magnitude, I would think that someone in power could have made this call WAY earlier than 11:30 a.m., at least two hours after it had started snowing.
Third, let me just state that there are hundreds of people visiting or moving to our state monthly. Not everyone who lives here has been here all their lives and many of our residents have their children in schools here and work in another city. There simply was not enough time for them to get to their children before the weather was almost too bad to get there at all. I think this could have been handled much better than it was.
Finally, change the website for bus locales to be alphabetical by street name or some other fashion that will make it easier for all to find their children’s driver and be able to communicate with him or her more directly. Buses change and break down all the time, and the children do not necessarily ride the same numbered bus all the time.
Yes, spring is coming, but I am sure that this is not the first time this has happened, nor will it be the last. If changes are not made to the current system, this will happen again, and we might not all be so lucky.
— Jeannie Pittman