By Esme Murphy

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — After a chaotic night getting students home from school in St. Paul, city and school officials are offering an explanation.

After officials with St. Paul Public Schools made the decision not to call a snow day or close early Monday, about a foot of snow fell — the city’s largest snowfall since 2010.

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The heavy snow didn’t start until midday, but it was enough to cause major delays, with many students stranded at school well into the night. Hundreds of young students were either stuck at school or on a bus home between 10 p.m. and midnight, according to one official.

At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Melvin Carter, Superintendent Joe Gothard and other school officials offered an apology and tried to explain what happened.

“Several St. Paul families experienced extreme bus delays last night, and for that I am truly sorry,” Mayor Carter said. “We rerouted snow plows to help clear school zones and even sent police officers to take children home.”

Superintendent Gothard repeatedly said the decision to keep the schools open was “based on the information we had at the time.”

“Looking at the total of the storm and knowing what we know now, we likely would’ve made a different decision,” Superintendent Gothard said. “In fact, I can tell you based on the conditions getting better right now as we speak, at 3 o’clock on an afternoon, we definitely would’ve made a different decision.”

Buses pick students up beginning with high school students at 2 p.m., 3 p.m. for junior high, and at 4 p.m. for elementary schools. That meant many of the stranded students were young, with many children not arriving home until close to midnight.

Eva Marie, a 5-year-old student at Mississippi Creative Arts School didn’t get home until just before 11 p.m.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Eva Marie’s mother, Stephanie Anderson, said. “I was going crazy, I was scared.”

Anderson says she got a robocall at around 7:15 p.m. that said her daughter’s bus had just left the school, which is only five minutes from home. It was nearly three hours later that the kindergartner walked through the door.

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“It was just ridiculous. Honestly, it was ridiculous,” Anderson said.

Parents say the heroes were school staffers who stayed with children. Teachers at Linwood Monroe Arts school ordered and paid for 15 McDonald’s Happy Meals and 25 hamburgers for their stranded kids.

“I thought it was really sweet of them to take care of the children who were stuck and stranded at school,” McDonald’s manager Eric Grandsberry said.

While most parents said they didn’t hear anything from the school, Lynn Shellenberger says she got numerous updates starting 9:30 a.m.

“Phone calls, I got four. And emails, I got six,” she said.

Despite the trouble, Mayor Carter says he saw the best of the city Monday night.

“Adversity tests and ultimately reveals character. I’m proud of the character so many of us showed last night is St. Paul,” he said. “I got a chance to see neighbors coming out of the woodwork with shovels, and snow plows, and pickup trucks to pull school buses out of drifts.”

Bonni Chan teaches fifth grade at Wellstone Elementary. She was one of roughly two dozen teachers who stayed at school late into the night to make sure students were taken care of.

“Everbody just pulled it together,” she said. “We had all sorts of snacks. They had a Friday food bag.”

Chan says Mayor Carter showed up around 10 p.m.

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“He was out helping us push cars and clean off cars and stuff, so he was there and very helpful,” she said. “It was nice to see him. It was a bright spot, actually.”

Esme Murphy