April 24, 2014 2:27 AM EDT

Stay or go? Schools officials face tough calls on dismissing class, holding buses in tornadoes
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The tornado came at the worst possible time for the hundreds of students loaded on school buses, ready to head home in Henryville, Ind.

There was no time to follow the preferred safety plan and herd students off the bus and inside the school. Instead, an assistant principal signaled drivers to go, setting off a desperate race to beat the tornado that was just minutes from slamming into the town and destroying a large part of the school.

Unlike snowstorms or hurricanes, which come with plenty of advance warning, tornadoes pose unique challenges for school districts because they can pop up suddenly, leaving little time to scramble to safety. School officials say the choice usually boils down to dismissing class well in advance or sheltering students in the school until the bad weather passes. Neither is guaranteed to save lives.

"When you look at the fact that the average amount of time from

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