UPDATE: Two groups of Rhea County Elementary School students are safe Tuesday evening after their field trip was cut short due to the wildfires. Frazier Elementary and Spring City Elementary 5th grade students were evacuated from the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. They were never in danger, but school officials wanted them out as soon as possible.
5th graders were reunited with their families Tuesday around 4 a.m. They were 25 miles away from the wildfires but the school district took precautionary measures.
89 Rhea County students were enjoying a science field trip in the Smoky Mountains. As news spread of threatening wildfires, Frazier Elementary Principal Dwayne Price was relieved to hear that his students were okay. “Things were fine, fire was 25 miles away from the camp and moving to the opposite direction.”
But just a few hours later, things changed. The wind had shifted and in the middle of the night the students were forced to leave. “Evacuated from the camp, moved to a church in Maryville where the Red Cross met them and then transitioned to our buses.”
Director of Schools Jerry Levengood immediately put a safety plan into action, leading two buses to the site to retrieve the students. The 5th graders boarded the bus at 1am and were headed back to their homes in Rhea County. “I can't look back today and think of one thing I would have done different. From the students, to Tremont, the staff. Everything was done perfectly,” said Levengood.
Back home, staff members were stationed at the elementary schools, addressing parents' concerns. “Staff here at the school throughout the night. Talking to parents on the phone, reassuring them and keeping them updated,” said Principal Price.
Levengood is thankful for the patience and trust shown by Rhea County parents, making the best of a potentially dangerous situation. “They really trusted us. They let us go get the children and bring them to them and everything went smoothly.”
School officials said students were aware of the magnitude of the wildfires and understood why their trip was being cut short. “Very calm, very excited, didn't have anyone crying or panicking.”
The students on the field trip had the day off Tuesday. They will return to class Wednesday.
PREVIOUS STORY: Two groups of Rhea County elementary school students are safe this morning, after a field trip was cut short due to wildfires.
According to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, Frazier Elementary and Spring City Elementary students were evacuated with staff as a precautionary measure due to wildfires in Sevier County.
As of midnight, the students were on buses and being taken to a church in Maryville.
Director of Schools Jerry Levengood confirms to Channel 3 that the fifth grade students were loading the buses after 1 a.m. and headed back to Rhea County.
Stay with Channel 3 as this story continues to develop.