Michael Wilson tries to find an alternate way around the flooded Buford Highway. Buford Highway was flooded just north of I-285 in DeKalb County due to a water main break on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. DeKalb County schools closed early because of the break, giving the district yet another day for students to make up, in a year that’s already had plenty of those. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Water main break gives DeKalb schools another day to make up

Wednesday’s water-main break presents a unique challenge for school district leaders in DeKalb so late in the school year: another day out of school that may need to be made up.

The DeKalb County School District has missed eight days of school since August due to hurricanes, snow and, now, water pressure issues. Decatur City Schools has missed seven for the same reasons.

Two dozen workers are at the scene along Buford Highway.

DeKalb officials decided to open Wednesday morning, busing students to school, then announced an early-release schedule about an hour later, which meant busing the students back home between 10 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Decatur City Schools delayed its start to assess the matter, then decided to close.

Wednesday afternoon, DeKalb Schools officials said students would make up the day’s missed lessons with a virtual learning day. Decatur officials were unsure how they would recoup lost lessons.

“A conversation like that usually happens when we get schools back up,” said Courtney Burnett, City Schools of Decatur’s spokeswoman. “We’re still talking through operations, still assessing things. We have some water, but it’s still real low water pressure.”

DeKalb schools were closed Sept. 11-14 when a depleted Hurricane Irma rolled through Georgia, closed early on Jan. 8 fearing bad weather headed into the area, and three days for snow from Jan. 17-19. Decatur missed those same days, except Sept. 14.

Technically, neither DeKalb nor Decatur has to make up missed school days. Nearly every school district has a waiver from the state requirement of a minimum of 180 classroom days. Some are keeping their students on track with the internet.

DeKalb County School District officials already announced last month that two days lost to snow would be made up using virtual learning assignments. Students have assignments this week for one of those days. The district has never used virtual learning days on weather days or school make-up days for its 102,000 students, though it has had the technology in place about three years.

DeKalb County School District announced rolling school closures Wednesday just after 8 a.m. on its Twitter feed. It didn’t take long for upset parents and students and teachers to weigh in.

“So if we knew about this beforehand, why did we send our children to school?” read one reply.

“My school doesn’t even have any water. I can’t even use the restroom,” stated another.

Spokesman Andre Riley said via email that the district simply did not have enough time to make such a decision before school operations began.

“DCSD first learned of the water main break’s impact around 6 a.m., which was not enough time for the district to close schools prior to the departure of school buses,” he said. “Our fleet of more than 900 buses depart for their routes beginning at 5 a.m.”

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