Cashiers community rallies to rescue stranded Blue Ridge students

The snow came on hard Friday morning and based on the flood of incoming information, Blue Ridge School and Early College staff made the decision to call it a snow day. Three buses tasked with delivering students home safely called back to HQ and said it was too risky to go on.

It was then a flood of support came from several Jackson County offices and agencies offering vehicles and staff to pick up the stranded students and take them back to BRS or secured drop off sites along the way, such as the BP Gas Station at the crossroads.

Supporting agencies include the Glenville-Cashiers Rescue Squad, Cashiers-Glenville Volunteer Fire Department, JC Emergency Management teams, JC Maintenance Department, N.C. Department of Transportation, and the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of Jackson County Public Schools.

Multiple Jackson County agencies responded to help return Blue Ridge students back to school before getting them home safely.

BREC Principal Tracie Metz said the decision was made to cancel school at approx. 8:45 a.m. Students were either picked up by their parents or they hopped on a bus to make their way home; three of which were forced to turn off and call in for back up.

“I feel really good about our quick decision to cancel the day,” said Metz. “We have excellent bus drivers, they know what’s safe and what’s not safe. They stopped and called in and said we’re not comfortable continuing. All the drivers and staff were great, and I appreciate all their hard work.”

Buses on Jody Town Road, Bee Tree Road, and Slab Town Road were forced to pull over and call in for an alternative plan. BRS Bus Driver Sheila Kinsey has been behind the wheel for 32 years and said this was not her first rodeo in the snow.

“The roads were starting to get slick,” said Kinsey. “I took my time and decided to pull over and stop. I think we did a good job handling it. We all worked together and kept the kids safe. That’s always number one.”

GCRS EMS Director Jeremy Stewart said the stranded bus on Jody Town Road was able to get back with a little help from the N.C. DoT.

“We were over on Jody Town and the state department was able to clear the road so the bus could get back to school safely,” said Stewart. “After that, some parents picked up their kids and the Rescue Squad took others home.”

Cashiers-Glenville Volunteer Fire Department was redirecting traffic after Highway 64 closed for approx. a half hour.

Other supporting individuals include:

Dr. Kim Elliott, JCPS Superintendent 

Jake Buchanan, JCPS Assistant Superintendent

Woody Dotson, JCPS Transportation Coordinator

Jason Watson, JCPS Maintenance Director

Snow day in Cashiers:

Highlands School rides out snowfall with full day

Staff at Highlands School were also monitoring the weather Friday morning and had their buses ready if the call to cancel was made.

Staff at Highlands School chose to ride out Friday’s snow storm at school and roads were clear by early afternoon.

Highlands Assistant Principal Sarah Holbrooks said there were several factors involved in the decision to ride out the storm at school; including communication with law enforcement through Student Resource Officer Tim Broughton about roadway incidents and conditions, rising temperatures expected later in the afternoon, and how quickly the snow was falling before the roads had been treated.

“If we had called it and had early release our buses would have been in the middle of their route when the roads were at their worst, and [Highway] 106 was closed,” said Holbrooks. “We needed temperatures to rise and the roads to be treated before we could send them home. Throughout all of it our staff did a tremendous job fielding phones calls and keeping things orderly; and our teachers did a wonderful job communicating with parents and students. Everybody did an awesome job.”

Of the 392 students enrolled at Highlands School, 160 left with early release.

Highlands Fire & Rescue officials said there was an accident on Highway 28 and rescue crews arrived to find the vehicle in an embankment. The driver was nowhere to be found and assumed made their way to town on foot.

HFR had two calls for motor-vehicle accidents on Friday and Chief Ryan Gearhart said when the weather gets bad and drivers must hit the road, take your time.

“Accidents were mostly due to people just not being patient and trying to hurry off the mountain,” said Gearhart.

Snow day in Highlands. Photos by Kim Lewicki, Highlands newspaper.

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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