Paulding County School District Superintendent Cliff Cole said he wanted to “thank the many heroes” who assisted the school system in transporting students home.
“It is truly amazing to hear the stories of our community coming together during this emergency situation,” he said.
Cole also said in a letter to school system parents dated Friday he apologized for “the stress, inconvenience and hardship this caused you and your family.”
“We will use these events to review our internal processes and procedures to continue to ensure the safety of all students,” Cole said.
Paulding County sheriff’s spokesman Cpl. Ashley Henson said it was “a bad situation but it just shows the heart of our citizens.”
“They pulled together and got those kids where they needed to be,” he said.
The Paulding County School District released students Jan. 28 beginning at noon. However, many bus drivers found transportation to and from school buildings treacherous and, soon, exit points blocked with ice and abandoned vehicles.
Many buses completed their routes but were unable to handle other routes, said school district spokesman Brian Otott.
Henson said his department’s main focus was getting children off stranded buses and transporting remaining children from schools.
“We were taking children home up until 4 in the morning,” he said. “The roads were getting really bad about 3 in the morning so we took a little break. We got a little bit of rest and came back first thing the next morning.
“We had to get those kids home to their parents. There were kindergarteners – those were 5-year-old children,” he said.
Paulding Department of Transportation director Scott Greene said snow and ice made most county roads impassible, with the worst of the roads in northeast Paulding.
The hardest-hit areas included Cedarcrest Road and Harmony Grove Church Road that are the main routes for students traveling to North Paulding High, McClure Middle and Burnt Hickory Elementary schools.
At the North Paulding school cluster, located on Harmony Grove Church Road, everyone from sheriff’s deputies to parents formed a shuttle service to deliver students to their homes after the two-lane main route to the schools was blocked by vehicles.
Greene’s department was forced to block off the road west of Fire Station 11 because vehicles crashed while descending the hilly, two-lane thoroughfare after ice formed on it.
“That really impacted getting kids out of the North Paulding campus,” he said.
Vehicles also crashed near a sharp curve on Cedarcrest Road just north of Harmony Grove Church Road, blocking Cedarcrest. That created a bottleneck effect in which the county’s two largest subdivisions zoned for the same schools, Bentwater north of Harmony Grove Church, and Seven Hills south of the same road, were divided, he said.
County and school system workers, sheriff’s deputies and parents with sport utility vehicles reportedly lined up at front doors and formed caravans of up to four vehicles at a time at the three-school complex.
The informal shuttle service delivered most students – with their parents’ permissions -- to their homes by about 10 p.m. An additional 300 spent the night primarily at three schools but were delivered to their homes by about noon on Jan. 29, officials said.
Greene said school system officials almost asked county workers to work to clear roads so students could be transported by bus.
“That became unnecessary because of all the volunteers, and all the shuttling that went on throughout the night to get everyone home,” he said. “The community came together and got everybody home.”
Those transporting students to Seven Hills were forced to use an icy, 20-mile alternate route that included U.S. Hwy. 41 instead of the normal, six-mile route.
“[Students] might be in the same class but their route home may have been different depending on which side of Harmony Grove Church Road they lived,” Greene said.
“You had buses leave and have to turn back,” Greene said. “Just west of the fire station, cars piled up. That was purely the topography in Paulding County.”
Hiram City Manager Robbie Rokovitz said about 25 stranded motorists used the city’s community center on Main Street as a temporary shelter Tuesday before city workers transported them to their homes.
In addition, city workers gave rides to 11 students stranded at Hiram Elementary School, 65 students stranded when their buses became trapped, and 20 stranded motorists, Rokovitz said.
“This facility was opened, also, because we heard that some kids made it home from school but were unable to gain entry into their homes,” Rokovitz said. “Our goal was to provide a safe, warm, local facility for those in the surrounding area to have a safe haven.”