Griffin-Spalding County schools reopen after tornadoes cripple community

Griffin-Spalding County students returned to the classroom Friday for the first time since the Jan. 12 tornadoes that ravaged their community.
Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 4:40 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2023 at 11:42 AM EST
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SPALDING COUNTY, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Griffin-Spalding County students returned to the classroom Friday for the first time since the Jan. 12 tornadoes that ravaged their community.

The school district is using the half-day as a run-through to test logistics and find out what students and their families need as they recover from the storm.

“Our commitment is to crawl back into that space.” said Superintendent Keith Simmons. “I don’t believe that it’s in our best interest to rush back into that.”

On Thursday, January 19, 2023, Griffin-Spalding County Schools (GSCS) will be closed to students while all staff will...

Posted by The Griffin-Spalding County School System, Griffin GA on Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The district reported a survey this week that showed 32 percent of its 9,500 students remained displaced from their homes after last week’s tornadoes, ultimately delaying the re-opening of schools. As many as 400 homes occupied by students of the Griffin-Spalding County School System have significant damage or are destroyed, according to Simmons.

“In the midst of all that, there’s a school-aged child who still needs the social, the emotional, the intellectual growth and development that schools are responsible for providing,” said Simmons.

Teachers went back to work earlier this week, but there are a number of challenges the district is facing getting everyone back in the classroom.

“Being respectful of everyone’s personal circumstances while also being reminded of our responsibility. We are responsible for educating this community,” the superintendent said.

“Those things that are typically done behind the scenes are now on the forefront,” Simmons said. “Something as simple as running a bus on a bus route is requiring a lot of logistic operation.”

None of the schools had serious damage. Some areas are still without Wi-Fi, so teachers will be reverting to pencil and paper for some tasks. Simmons said he’s just thankful nobody was injured or killed.

“The fact that we’re not planning homegoing ceremonies or anything to that is beyond amazing,” he said. “It’s really just a matter of us being saved by grace.”

Teachers in the district have been hosting cookouts at some of the schools where they’re giving out food and toiletries to people who need them.

President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for seven Georgia counties impacted by last week’s severe storms and tornadoes. The declaration came less than 24 hours after Gov. Brian Kemp sent a request to FEMA.

While the National Weather Service is still surveying the damage, the agency confirmed four tornadoes were on the ground at the same time in Griffin. Southwest Spalding and northwestern Pike counties reportedly got hit with one of the largest tornadoes. The tornadoes were categorized as two EF1s, two EF2s, and one EF3, Spalding officials say.

Additional surveys were completed of long-track tornados on Thursday bringing the total number to 10 in Georgia, according to National Weather Service officials. Out of the 10 tornadoes, nine of them were in the metro surrounding area. The survey also included 32 injuries and two deaths.

The final tornado count is still being determined and an additional survey will be released in the coming days.