Winter weather causes issues for students in Bear Lake area

Despite their crucial role, school buses are subject to many of the same limitations as any vehicle.

Sometimes, they can’t safely carry their cargo.

On Wednesday, two school buses did not pick up students at the northwestern tip of the district.

That situation arose from a combination of weather and timing.

In the district, calling a two-hour school delay, and cancelling school for a day, are separate decisions.

On Wednesday, Warren County School District officials made the call for a delay at 5 a.m. based on weather and travel conditions.

“When the district delays the start of school by two hours, there is another opportunity to cancel school if conditions warrant,” Transportation Manager Mike Kiehl said. “(On Tuesday), at 7 a.m., we decided to have school.”

That second decision has to be made by 7:30 a.m., Superintendent Amy Stewart said. “At that point the transportation system consisting of 81 buses and 64 vans goes into motion to pick up all students who normally utilize district transportation.”

Then, municipal officials contacted the district to inform of to much heavy snow and poor visibility.

“On Wednesday, just prior to 9 a.m., we received new information that the weather was declining in Bear Lake,” Stewart said.

“Travel would be difficult in the Bear Lake region,” Kiehl said. “They were unable to keep up with the snowfall and visibility was poor.”

“At that point, with all buses and vans in motion, we cannot cancel school for all students,” Stewart said. “A choice had to be made to continue the runs to Bear Lake or to cancel them.”

After speaking with the drivers, “based on this new information and the current weather conditions, with the students’ safety in mind, the district opted to not make pick-ups in the Bear Lake region. This affected two buses and the parents were contacted by the transportation office,” Kiehl said.

“Our district is almost 800 square miles, and our buses and vans travel over 9,900 miles per day,” Stewart said. “We live in a part of the country where snow-covered roads are common in the winter.”

“The vast majority of the time, winter roads can be handled by all of those out there responsible for plowing and maintaining those 9,900 miles,” she said. “We make the best decision possible with the information we have every morning.”

“Sometimes, two hours after making a decision, it snows more than we thought or the wind blows more than anticipated,” Stewart said. “The weather, particularly when it is lake-effect snow, is very difficult to predict.”

The district does not force drivers into unsafe situations.

“As a general rule, the district informs the school bus drivers that they are the ‘captain of the ship,'” Kiehl said. “If a driver perceives that conditions are unsafe or could potentially jeopardize the safety of the students, then the driver has the ability to abort a portion of their route.”

“When faced with 9,900 miles of roadways each day, there are unique situations that arise in areas that make them difficult to reach, particularly in the winter,” Stewart said. “If a driver feels that it is unsafe to take a vehicle down a specific stretch of road, we allow them to exercise their judgment for the safety of our students.”

“This is not a frequent occurrence, but it does happen,” Kiehl said. “Some examples are a tree down, flooding, or icy road conditions. While the district gathers information from many sources and regions, ultimately we trust our drivers to handle their specific situations in a safe manner.”