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Clayton schools assess winter storm

Jonesboro Police and Jonesboro Public Works employees were out early Thursday morning salting icy roads in the city. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

Jonesboro Police and Jonesboro Public Works employees were out early Thursday morning salting icy roads in the city. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

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Clayton County school buses are covered in snow during the storm. School was cancelled for three days. (Special Photo)

JONESBORO — Jonesboro police Officer M.D. Foster was out early Thursday morning helping block the city’s desolate, ice-covered roadways.

Foster and others with the police department helped enable Jonesboro public works employees to salt and make the potentially treacherous streets passable.

Activity began to pick up near downtown around midday, as school system employees returned to prepare for Friday’s potential reopening of Clayton County Public Schools.

Spokeswoman Vicki Gavalas said essential staff were asked to report at noon Thursday to prepare for a probable start to school Friday.

Members of the district’s police, maintenance and transportation departments were asked to help assess conditions of the roads, school facilities and transportation equipment. She said the business staff also reported in order to process the district’s payroll.

Students have been out of school since Tuesday.

Gavalas said officials decided to close schools about 4 a.m. Tuesday after hearing the latest weather reports that 1-2 inches of snow and ice could accumulate on Clayton County roadways.

“It’s really hard when you have inclement weather decisions to make,” she said. “But we are very pleased with the decision we made.”

By 4:30 a.m., parents and employees were being notified about the closure through automated phone calls.

Gavalas said it was the first time the district used its School Messenger robo-call system to inform the community about the impending inclement weather.

She said the process, which lasted about an hour, was successful. She said the system reached about 88 percent of the 50,000 numbers called in that hour. She estimates that nearly every family and employee received notice in some form or another — including news and social media — before Tuesday’s winter storm hit.

Gavalas said officials have received many thank you notes from residents praising their efforts and deciding to close down schools Tuesday.

The district of 52,000 students would have contributed hundreds of buses and cars to local traffic.

Northcutt Elementary Assistant Principal Dr. Debra Howard sent the superintendent a thank you note by email Tuesday, as she watched news coverage of less fortunate residents. En route to their homes and schools, thousands of motorists from other metro Atlanta jurisdictions were caught in the rush of afternoon traffic, many abandoning their cars to find shelter from the storm.

“It was a nightmare that we didn’t have to endure because she made a wise decision,” said Howard. “I just wanted to commend our superintendent, Luvenia Jackson, because she made a wise decision and she did it early enough that all of us were able to do something in case we had to stay in the house, as we did, for three days.”

Gavalas said the district’s successful school closure was a result of community cooperation as well.

“We want to thank the staff, parents and the community for supporting us,” she said.

As of Thursday, the district has amassed four days of no class, which means officials will have to decide on make-up days soon.

“There is a winter break coming up Feb. 13-17,” said Gavalas. “That is a time period that we can look at. Also, we could look at teacher work days and professional development days.

“Spring break which begins the week of April 7,” she added. “The very last thing that we would consider is extending the school year. We want to get our days in but at the same time we don’t want to inconvenience families.”

National Weather Service meteorologist Kent France said the area is drying out from the more than 2 inches of snow that cloaked the Southern Crescent this week.

“Our weather pattern has been what they consider to be neutral,” France said. “Atlanta, believe it or not, is four-seasonal.”

France said most of Tuesday’s frozen precipitation should melt away by Friday afternoon, under the radiant heat of the sun.

Despite a cold start Friday, average high temperatures will reach up to about 51 degrees and overnight lows will remain above freezing through the weekend.

France said early forecasts show increased chances of rain returning to the area late Saturday into Sunday.