With harsh winter weather pounding the Midwestern and Eastern regions of the U.S., school officials are responding to complaints about repeated school cancelations.
Bill Partridge, police chief of Oxford Police Department in Alabama, did not mince words in his reply to those complaining about repeated school closings. “I read the social media post by individuals who ridicule the school system for delays and closings every year, especially during the winter months. These decisions are NOT taken lightly,” he said.
“Buses don’t just travel major highways, they travel rural roads all over the county. Some of these roads are less traveled and take longer to be safely driven on,” Partridge pointed out. “I for one would rather make sure our children are safe by delaying or closing schools than to ignore the possibility of bad weather and risk the injury or death of a child. I can only imagine the backlash from that scenario.”
Some of the dangers posed by winter weather were illustrated on Jan. 9 when ice on a Maryland road caused a school bus to slide off the road, tip into a ditch and balance over a ravine. The driver, an aide and a special-needs student inside were rescued by the fire department after the bus was stabilized.
Winter Storm Grayson in early January forced Virginia Beach City Public Schools to be closed for six instructional days. Carolyn Weems, a school board member, wrote that both she and her kids were getting restless being cooped up at home. However, she stressed the thought and care that school officials take when deciding whether the roads are safe enough to travel on, even taking time to drive routes before school opened in the morning.
“Some of our neighborhood roads were still not safe and definitely were not suitable for school buses filled with children. Even our main roads presented some risk, because fewer lanes were open because of piles of snow,” she explained. “I do not want our bus drivers or teenage drivers risking their safety, so I am very pleased that we operate by the rule of safety first and foremost.”
Even when the weather does not warrant school closings, it makes it harder for students without bus service. In Vermont’s Winooski School District, a group called Parents and Youth for Change decided to help.
“Going to school on foot can mean that students arrive wet, tired and sometimes late. This especially impacts families who don’t own cars, which is 30% of Winooski households,” a statement read. To remedy that, the organization set up free bus service until March 30 for students. Parents and other members of the community who are so inclined can complete criminal background checks and then serve as bus monitors.