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California Student Transporters Dry Off from Record Rainfall

Despite another atmospheric river on the way, student transporters across California are using a few days of no rain to dry off after some of the worst flooding the state has seen in years.

School districts and companies contacted by School Transportation News said they suffered little ill-effects of the rare deluge that brought several inches of rain earlier this week, on top of already saturated ground from New Year’s storms. According to media reports, 17 people have died across California so far. Another storm is on the way this weekend into early next week before drier conditions take over.

The Bay Area, the state capital of Sacramento, and the central coast were especially hard hit. One example is Santa Cruz County, which ordered mandatory evacuations ahead of a state of emergency called by Gov. Gavin Newsom and then this week’s approval of Federal Emergency Management Agency funds by President Joe Biden. Schools were largely spared, thanks in part to many students not scheduled to return from the holiday break until this week.

Santa Cruz City Schools at the northern tip of Monterey Bay resumed classes as originally scheduled on Wednesday, resulting in no postponements, said spokesman Sam Rolens. But he added that many district families are impacted by flooding. He said school buses are “running normally,” but the transportation department has remained on high alert throughout the weather events and adjusted routes accordingly.

“We have had to plan routes around slides, fallen trees and other closed roads. We are navigating areas without power and areas with difficult road conditions,” he explained in an email on Wednesday. “Our transportation team is in constant contact with all drivers and school sites, and we have had expanded communication with families as we got everything ready for service today. The report I got from the team is that we are able to safely meet all of the transportation needs of the community we normally service, but there has been a lot of preparation work that’s gone into responding to the challenges posed by severe weather.”

Rolens added that the district’s school buses are at the ready to perform evacuations but have yet to be needed. Meanwhile, the district food services team is providing meals for displaced residents at a local shelter.

Nearby Pajaro Valley Unified canceled school Monday and Tuesday during the latest onslaught of rain from the so-called “bomb cyclone.” Katie Baggese, the district’s director of transportation, said school bus drivers were on call to support evacuations, if needed. Meanwhile, the school buses were moved to higher ground so they would be ready to transport students when classes resumed on Wednesday.

“[Tuesday] was the worst of it I believe, but with the rain continuing for the remainder of the week, we will continue to have road closures due to the lack of time between storms for the ground to saturate the rain waters,” Baggese reported. “Even when schools reopen, we will still have impacts to gaining access to some of our bus stop locations.”


Related: ‘Bomb Cyclone’ Brings More Threats of Flooding to California School Districts


About 180 miles down the coast in the Santa Maria area near Santa Barbara, Orcutt Union School District started school after the break on time Monday. “Our first day back was pretty cold, wet and windy,” commented Jana Graham, the district’s transportation coordinator.

She added that early dismissal was added to get all students and staff home and off the road. “We were successful with that,” she said. “We dismissed all of our school sites, staggering the dismissal times, and we were able to get all the students home safely, and the district staff as well. We had no damages to any of our buses or facilities, and there was no use of our buses for any evacuations.”

Meanwhile, the San Francisco area has also been hard hit with widespread flooding for the past two weeks. But that didn’t keep school buses off the road, said Jenny Mayfield, a spokeswoman for contractor Zum.

“The on-the-ground team continues to work diligently and proactively to mitigate any issues,” she said. “Operations have not been impacted. Using our dispatch [technology] combined with the support of our incredible drivers and staff, all routes have been covered and services meet demand.”

Some Sacramento-area schools were closed, however, earlier this week. Sacramento City Unified School District reopened on Wednesday but continued to monitor flooded areas and advised parents and students to do the same via social media.

The school district had no damage to report, as there were no flooding problems within the district boundaries, said spokesman Al Goldberg. But power outages and downed trees have been an issue.

Flooding was an issue for nearby Elk Grove Unified, but Director of Transportation Ken Black said only three school sites were closed – two on Monday and an additional school on Tuesday – because of the weather, which he still called “extremely challenging.” All schools were open on Wednesday.

“Power outages were the biggest challenge,” Black relayed to STN. “We did have to reroute many routes, we have a lot of rural area to cover, and it was especially tough out near the Wilton area due to flooded roadways and downed trees and power poles.”

He added there was no notable damage to the district’s school buses.

“I think, in short, the constant communication between the whole district team, from our superintendent all the way through the many people we have in this district serving our students, was very important,” Black concluded.

Meanwhile, Tim Shannon, director of facilities and transportation for neighboring Twin Rivers Unified School District, was even more succinct about the response of student transporters to the weather.

“We are good,” he texted.


Related: (STN Podcast E142) 2023 Kickoff: Economics, Weather & One District’s Innovative Bus Routing Strategy
Related: Be Prepared When Flooding Impacts School Buses
Related: Nearly One-Quarter of Nation’s Roads and Infrastructure at Risk of Flooding

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