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Extreme weather complicates an already complicated back to school

In Transylvania County, the first day of school was Monday, Aug. 16. Ten inches of rain fell. That night, a contentious school board meeting kept educators out until late in the night.

Already weary, educators returned on Tuesday for day two, only to be confronted with “unprecedented rain and flooding,” according to a status report from the county.

In some places in the county, more than 17 total inches of rain fell.

“Floodwaters rose rapidly creating dangerous conditions,” said the report, which noted there were “countless” evacuations.

Educators at Rosman Middle School and Rosman High School, who were bringing students back to school safely during the pandemic, found themselves diverting flooding from school doors, stopping leaks in old school buildings, and making sure all the children on all the buses got home safely.

The town of Rosman has a population of 621. It sits next to the French Broad River. At 11:45 a.m. on Wednesday, the river was at 20.2 feet, and it was expected to keep rising today to a crest of 22.5 feet. The middle and high schools are connected. Scott Strickler is the principal of the middle school, and Jason Ormsby is the principal of the high school.

Julie Queen, who serves as assistant principal of both Rosman Middle and Rosman High, helped us understand the impact of the storm on the school and her community.

Alan Justice, the transportation director for the school system, was monitoring the situation on Tuesday from the lobby of the Rosman Middle School.

“How many buses are out?” asked Strickler.

Bus 21 was almost to its last stop and another bus was almost back, said Justice.

“Where is 114?”

“It’s over there. It’s good,” said Justice.

“When I crossed the bridge, water was about that far underneath it,” Justice said, depicting the depth with his hands. “But when I came back down the mountain, the water was that high over it.”

“Balsam Grove looks like a disaster area,” he added. Justice described to the school administrators which areas were completely under water. “Oh my God,” they all said collectively.

We overheard the principals at Rosman Middle School and Rosman High School offer to remove water from the basements of homes of school families when the school day ended. Overnight shelters were arranged for those who had to evacuate, according to the district.

“This is a special place,” said Jeremy Gibbs, who leads district and regional support services for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction in the western region of our state. “They do good things.”

Rivers are still rising through Friday. There have been swift water rescues. People remain missing. Tornadoes were reported nearby. Trees are down. There have been “numerous” landslides, according to the report.

The day after

Transylvania County Schools cancelled classes the day after the storm.

Superintendent Jeff McDaris said, “we have experienced unprecedented rain totals over three days in the county … Some parts of the county have major destruction. We have heavy flooding, power outages, some roads are compromised.” McDaris is aware of several floods in the last hundred years that were 500 year floods — 1916, he says, may have been the worst, and then 1964 and 2004.

Neighbors walked the town of Rosman to locate those in need of assistance and begin to clean up the debris.

The rest of the photos are courtesy of Kevin Smith, Transylvania County Schools.

Educators conducted home visits further from school and town to connect with students and families.

The middle school served as a community hub for anyone needing water or bathrooms. The CTE kitchen was used to make lasagna, which was served with spaghetti, pizza, and bread for lunch.

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The principals are just beginning to survey damage to the school facilities.

Scott Strickler, the principal of Rosman Middle School
Jason Ormsby, the principal of Rosman High School

“Hopefully, we’ll never see anything like that again”

Jake Raines teaches English at Rosman High School. As Gibbs and I passed by his house during the worst of the rain, there was just so much water. His family had to evacuate their home.

Later Raines wrote, “I have a marker on my property for the 500 year flood zone elevation, and it was underwater, so hopefully, we will never see anything like that again in our lifetime.”

And then he said, “I pray for you that lost some and/or all. If you need anything, please reach to me, and I will do my best to help in anyway possible.”

The spirit and commitment of our educators is unparalleled.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.