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Forsyth school officials: Delayed dismissal a tornado precaution
After a tornado warning was issued Monday afternoon, education officials and visitors gathered in the front office at Chestatee Elementary while the school's dismissal was delayed until conditions were deemed safe. - photo by Micah Green

NORTH FORSYTH — As students sat in the hallway of their elementary school Monday, a woman read a story over the intercom for “today’s entertainment.”

It was about 2:30 p.m., and instead of heading to the buses for dismissal, students at Chestatee Elementary waited for the countywide tornado warning to expire.

Schools throughout the county followed the same protocol by putting the safety of students and anyone on campus first, officials said.

Students at Chestatee were led into centrally located hallways, while county and state personnel — including Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods and state Sen. Michael Williams, who were on campus for an award ceremony — funneled into office rooms.

“The fact that it happened during dismissal time added responsibility,” said Jennifer Caracciolo, spokeswoman for the school system. “At Haw Creek, we had 900 students getting ready for dismissal … and 300 parents outside in cars.”

School personnel brought bus drivers and parents waiting in the car line inside the building at Chestatee and other campuses.

Feedback on social media sites claimed some parent notifications were received after the warning had been lifted, or about 3:30 p.m. That was well after normal dismissal time for elementary schools.

Administrators, however, cannot prioritize being at a computer to send out parent portal communications in such a situation, Caracciolo said.

“As soon as it was all clear and safety was not an issue, we began communications,” she said.

The same situation would have occurred if school front offices were not answering phones, as main offices often have too many windows.

Although there were no confirmed reports of any tornadoes touching down in Forsyth County, the sirens and warning were issued because the radar indicated a “strong potential that a tornado could form,” which is a quick process.

Hail as large as two to three inches in diameter was reported in spots across the county.