SPALDING COUNTY, Ga. — Children returned to school Friday in the City of Griffin and Spalding County for a half-day, to be with each other for the first time since the tornadoes tore through their communities last week. Their neighborhoods were some of the hardest hit in north Georgia.
Hundreds of the children and their families lost their homes; they’re living in shelters and motels, and with relatives or friends, for now.
Shannon Shirley and her husband and their 9-year-old old son are living in a Red Cross shelter in Griffin, now. They can’t move back into their home, just north of Downtown; the tornado knocked it off of its foundation and it is slipping down a hillside.
However, Shirley said Thursday night her son can’t wait to go back to school, and spend time away from the shelter and his memories.
“He’s finally just now starting to be able to sleep through the night,” she said. “He was having nightmares, just like me, because he has never been through anything like this. To witness it firsthand, he was absolutely terrified.”
So far, the Griffin Spalding County School System has been able to contact about 3,000 of the 6,000 families who have children in the school system, and about 30% of those 3,000—close to 1,000 families—lost their homes. The school system is also working to find out how many of the remaining 3,000 families were displaced.
School buses stopped at shelters and motels and relatives’ and friends’ homes to take the children to school—a half-day Friday, and then full-time beginning Monday.
“We wanted to get our kids back and assess the social emotional needs, talk about how to process what they’ve seen and what they’ve experienced,” said Adam Pugh of the Griffin-Spalding County school district. “We’ll hopefully provide a much needed safe harbor, a routine, a sense of normalcy for some of these guys that have been directly affected, where we can care for them, and connect with them and educate them.”
It is just what Shannon Shirley believes her son needs most, right now, “So I can get him into a routine and get him back into some kind of a schedule, it’s going to be very important for him.”
Russell World was one of many parents who dropped their child off at school Friday morning
Friday’s half-day was set to end after lunch. Then teachers stayed behind and reviewed what they’ll all need to do to resume full-time on Monday.
"Educators, they know our kids sometimes much better than we do. So I think it's I think it's best to do it that way," World said.
About 5% of the district’s 1,400 staff members lost their homes—about 70 staff members, in all. Pugh said all but nine of them have been able to return to work.
Superintendent Keith Simmons said he's hoping families know the district will do what it can to help.
"We're going to lean into assisting our city and county officials and making sure that our parents, our families have access to the information that they need regarding housing, you know, anything related to FEMA efforts," Simmons said.
Anyone who wants to donate or provide support to the district this encouraged to call the Griffin-Spalding Call Center at (678) 453-4508.