MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) - During Thursday's winter weather choas, Madison City Schools coincidentally decided to dismiss school at what turned out to be about the worst time possible, when conditions where at their worst.
Superintendent Dee Fowler even sent a mass memo to all parents admitting they "missed the mark." Here is the full text of the email:
Dear Parents and Guardians,
What an adventure today! One that I hope we NEVER have to repeat. I have received several emails stating that we missed the mark on the weather today. I agree wholeheartedly!!!! But if you want to email and tell me that we were wrong I will understand. WE DID MISS THE MARK. The weather information that we received midmorning stated that the worst of the bad weather would be arriving between 2:30 and 4:00 p.m. Therefore, we decided to dismiss our last schools at 1:00 p.m. which would allow our bus routes to be completed before the worst arrived. This information was given to Madison County and Huntsville Schools too. They made the same dismissal decision. What happened? We let out at the worst possible time. In hindsight, we realize our decision was not the best choice. Had we known the outcome we would have cancelled school or waited and dismissed at regular time.
We had some real heroes today; school administrators and bus drivers going the extra mile, and we had some folks that made decisions that were not in line with our procedures. I have even learned that we had a bus driver that let students out of the bus to walk home. That is not acceptable.
We will certainly take this whole dismissal experience, study it and try to learn from our mistakes.
Dr. Dee O. Fowler
Superintendent of Education
Madison City Schools
WHNT News 19 spoke to School Safety Coordinator Dennis James about the lessons learned going forward.
"Obviously our biggest concern is that we dismissed school into weather that had created hazardous road conditions, and as safety is our top priority we never want to put students or parents in a hazardous situation," said James.
The information Madison received led them to believe dismissing early would help parents avoid nasty weather. However, a swift sweep of sleet caused travel issues.
James says, though, there is something to be said about a superintendent who is willing to admit the ball was dropped.
"We want to go back obviously whenever that happens, we want to be honest about it and we want to do an honest investigation or just a recap, really, of the steps that we took," said James.
Administrators were told the worst of the weather would happen between 2 and 4 p.m. It turns out it would have been better to either cancel school altogether or to simply stay for the full day of school.
For school officials and parents alike, it's a lesson learned they don't want to repeat.
"One of the things we want to look at is the information that we had coming in and did we analyze that data correctly and did we make appropriate decisions," said James.
While Madison school administrators were bombarded with calls of complaints from parents, they say they were met equally with comments of appreciation for the school system's transparency about the mistake and the resulting consequences.