Stokes County Superintendent Dr. Brad Rice shared an apology from his home in a six-minute Facebook video Friday night after a decision made to close Stokes County Schools at 1:30 p.m. left buses stranded, students relocated and parents taking their frustration to social media.
Rice explained he began eyeing the forecast at 4:15 a.m. Friday morning.
“We were checking weather reports and everything that we were seeing said that it wasn’t supposed to get below freezing until somewhere between nine and 10 o’clock. With that being said, we allowed eight different field trips to occur. When the weather conditions started deteriorating around 11 o’clock, we started calling to see how fast we could get those students back to school. The common theme was around 1:30 and that’s when we made that decision to cancel school.”
Stokes Early College and Meadowbrook were released at noon, because some of the buses had three-hour routes.
“The plan was then to have everybody home around 3:30. At 1:45, I was standing in the middle of the road in Danbury with a temperature gauge that roads were 38 degrees. So, we were still fine. Then the big slow flakes started falling and cooled everything off and obviously we saw what happened at that point.”
Rice made the decision not to run buses at Nany Reynolds when bus drivers expressed concerns over safety.
“We had word from parents that cars were losing traction on the road. We made the calls to the parents and said the buses aren’t going to run and that they would need to come pick up their kids. We understood the inconvenience, but we would stay with the kids as long as needed and they would be dry, warm and safe. We’d provide food if necessary.”
Rice then relayed word to bus drivers at North Stokes, if they felt unsafe to stop or come back to the school. The decision resulted in at least three buses pulling into the Francisco Volunteer Fire Department because drivers weren’t comfortable traveling any further.
“We started calling parents. We started letting kids on the bus call parents. The driver was relaying names back to the school because we didn’t do an all-call because we didn’t want everyone in that area to drive there and be out on the roads. We were trying to do individual calls to keep as many off the road as possible, but get the ones there that needed to be there,” Rice said.
With double routes in the King area, some routes ran, but others were halted for safety reasons.
“We did that at Chestnut Grove and West. Some of the routes were really flat so the drivers felt safe taking them home and some that were more mountainous, we parked those buses and asked the parents to come get them.”
Rice didn’t shirk responsibility and apologized profusely.
In a phone interview on Friday, he said at least four student accidents were reported from North Stokes High School, two of which required immediate medical attention.
Senior Heavon Ratcliff left North Stokes shortly after 1 p.m. when an announcement was made student drivers could leave 20 minutes before the early dismissal. As a passenger in the car with two other students, Ratcliff’s friend, a young driver swerved off of the road, going into a curve near Ray Loop Road around 1:20 p.m.
“The car slid causing the rear end to rotate. We turned sideways and it turned back and we went off the right side of the road off a hill. We went airborne and the driver’s side smacked into a tree. It was about a 10-foot drop. It was the scariest experience I have ever been through,” Ratcliff said.
One of the student passengers was taken to Baptist Hospital immediately. Ratcliff opted to be seen at LifeBrite Community of Stokes, where she ran into two of her classmates, one who was being sent to Brenner Children’s Hospital.
“Snow started to fall at North Stokes around 8:30, then gradually got worse and was coming down harder at 9:30. The announcement was made around 11:20 that all games and activities would be cancelled, but yet we could not be released,” the teen said.
According to Ratcliff, at least five other classmates lost control of their vehicle and spun into a ditch on Friday.
Looking back, if he could make the decision again, Rice said, of course, he would have released students earlier.
“At the end of the day, I’m responsible for 5,900 students and 950 employees. We’re covering roughly 1,600 square miles in the county. With 85 bus drivers and trying to mobilize that, it’s not a snap-of-the-fingers thing. I apologize. I take full responsibility. That’s my job and in hindsight, I made a mistake today.”
In Friday night’s Facebook video, found on the Stokes County Schools page, the superintendent explained the situation in length and apologized, and the vast majority of comments were positive.
Andy Ferguson, who lives in the northern part of the county, commented: I see you at North, South and West, at all the middle and elementary schools, even on your own time. There is no doubt you care about the well-being of all Stokes County kids. You are a man with a heart and a vision and you are a good man to stand up and say what you said right here. In a day like we live in now, what you just did in this video is rare. This is teaching kids even when most of us feel that you were not exactly in the wrong.
Melissa Lester Bennett said on the superintendent’s post: I think all of us were surprised about how quickly the weather escalated today. It takes a heck of a man to come on here and apologize to an entire county. You made your decision based on the information that you had. Much respect to you for coming out like this instead of hiding and blaming others.
Rodney Baughman replied on the post: Takes a big man to admit a mistake. But as you said the weather took a turn that no one seen coming. I personally don’t know you, but I could see the emotion you have for this county and these kids. Keep your head up and let’s all say a prayer for the students injured today.
“I take responsibility for all of it. I hope parents know that I’m sorry for what transpired today and that safety is extremely important to me. I have a teenage driver that drove home today. I have a wife, a teacher that drove home in it today, and I had a student on the bus today riding home. So everything anybody felt, I felt as well,” Rice said.
If parents have questions or concerns, the superintendent said he’ll be available by phone on Monday morning.
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.