Michelle Mann

Some days you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Last week had one such day as what emergency management authorities called “a potent storm system” moved across the Wiregrass.

Meteorologists said the primary threat of the storm system was Wednesday, Feb. 5, and Thursday, Feb. 6.

Destructive straight-line winds in excess of 70 miles-per-hour and tornadoes deemed “significant,” were predicted by the National Weather Service in Tallahassee, Fla.

A tornado watch was issued, then extended and finally cancelled Feb. 6 at 1:31 p.m.

Ironically, or perhaps prophetically, the weather preceding the predictions was glorious. The calm before the proverbial storm?

As standard operating procedure, school leaders in the Wiregrass conferred with county emergency management personnel and the National Weather Service as the inclement weather approached.

Each school system was faced with the decision of whether to open or to remain closed. There are many factors that go into leadership decisions to open or close an entire school system.

The number—and condition—of dirt roads school buses transporting students is a large factor in decision making. The safety of the students while inside the school buildings is another factor.

Some area schools opted to stay closed Thursday for reasons that included the fact that students are attending classes in modular or temporary buildings. Some students in the New Brockton school system and the elementary school students on Fort Rucker are included in that number.

Enterprise City Schools do not share those same challenges.

There have been times when all area schools have closed together. No two school systems are the same so it would be foolish to make decisions based upon another district’s situation. The ECS leadership did what is right based upon their circumstances.  Just as the other school systems’ leadership did based on their circumstances.

“As for those who chose to hold their children out of school on Thursday, I completely respect that decision,” said ECS Superintendent Greg Faught. “I will never assume that my solution for a student’s safety is better than their parents’.”

Most of us in Coffee and Dale Counties dodged the proverbial bullet with minor damage. The people in parts of Demopolis were not so lucky as a tornado destroyed several mobile homes, throwing one several hundred yards across a highway.

Armed with state-of-the-art storm shelters and bus routes that are predominately on paved roads, the Enterprise schools’ leadership opted to open for business.

To minimize risks to the students, gifted students and Enterprise Career and Technology Center students remained at their home schools because those facilities have storm shelters in place. The students who attend the Coppinville School of Opportunity were taken to Enterprise High School shortly after school began.

And then the “Monday Morning Quarterbacking” via social media began.

Some called the decision to close the schools an overreaction. Some commented on the inconvenience of having to make alternate child care arrangements.

Those comments multiplied as the storms left our area with little damage close to home.

Some criticized the schools closing as a safety precaution as having “done all this for nothing.”

In Enterprise we say that we will “Never Forget” the nine lives lost when a March 1, 2007 tornado tore through the city demolishing homes and two schools, and we have not as each of the schools in the system now have state-of-the-art storm shelters that can withstand 200 mile-per-hour winds.

“While there may be homes in Enterprise engineered to withstand wind gusts of 200 miles an hour, I am not aware of any,” Faught said. “Each one of our elementary schools, junior high schools, and high school have such structures. In fact, our school board has spent millions of dollars to build facilities to keep our students and staff safe.” 

All of the area superintendents are to be commended, not criticized, for their commitment to the safety of their respective students.

Canceling school is a tough and multifaceted decision. Some students rely on the schools for breakfast and lunch. Canceling school causes problems as working parents scramble to find unexpected alternate child care.

Keeping a school open during a potential weather disaster is also a tough and multifaceted decision.

I think most of the school leaders will tell you that they consider every option available before they make the one that they know will cause disruption to the day-to-day process in the lives of hundreds.

The safety of the students and staff, the severity and timing of the anticipated storms and the ability for school buses and cars to safelty transport students to their destination are among the factors considered.

And a personal note to the social media word warriors who emerged in droves: Please consider the fact that what you post online speaks volumes about who you really are.

Michelle Mann is a staff writer for The Southeast Sun and Daleville Sun-Courier. The opinions of this writer are her own and not the opinion of the paper. She can be reached at (334) 393-2969 or by email at mmann@southeastsun.com.

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