Amid one of the worst ecological disasters in recent history, the Los Angeles Unified School District worked tirelessly to ensure educational continuity by transporting evacuated children to and from school.
The Aliso Canyon storage facility sprung a gas leak in October, blanketing the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Porter Ranch with roughly 80,000 metric tons of methane and other petroleum gases. Soon after, residents began complaining of a variety of ailments.
The Southern California Gas Company, owner of the storage facility, admitted fault and started the process of relocating residents. Castlebay Lane Charter School and Porter Ranch Community School were closed, and in December LAUSD began transferring students to other schools located outside of the affected area.
Donald Wilkes, director of transportation services at LAUSD, credited the success of the student reassignment to the creative efforts of his operations and maintenance staff.
“All our work has received nothing but a positive response,” said Wilkes. “But it took a lot of adjustment in a condensed amount of time.”
In the span of roughly two weeks, a plan was in place to obtain additional buses and drivers, craft loading and drop-off zones, fashion new routes and communicate with parents. In the end, it worked out, however, “We didn’t know who’d be riding the bus until they were aboard,” added Wilkes.
LAUSD safeguarded transportation services for the affected children who ranged in age from kindergarten through 12th grade. Of the approximately 1,700 displaced students displaced, nearly 550 students required busing to their new schools.
Wilkes was quick to point out the benefits of this transition occurring during the winter recess, giving the transportation department time to implement the plan while the students were on break for the holidays. Operations were primed and ready by the time classes resumed, including a new tracking program for general and special education students.
“In the condensed timeframe, we obtained 17 buses and drivers, had the vehicles inspected, the drivers trained, changed gates, widened driveways to give access to buses and notified parents to let them know transportation will be provided,” said Wilkes. “All this was implemented in less than a month and no one has missed a day of school.”
Wilkes reported that students will remain at their alternative schools for the remainder of the school year.
By the time California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency issue in January, more than 11,000 residents were moved from their homes to temporary quarters while SoCal Gas attempted to plug the hole, which was finally completed on Thursday. But neighbors remained wary.
Experts have called the levels of carbon footprint released into the atmosphere more environmentally damaging than the Deepwater Horizon fire and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico nearly six years ago.