By Jennifer Wohlleb
The past two winters in Kentucky have been an anomaly for most school districts – weather so mild that some have cancelled school more days for illness than snow. But when Mother Nature’s bad side returns, some school districts are ready with snow route plans that will help keep students in class.
Snow routes, also referred to as alternative routes or plan B, allow districts to designate in advance central locations near main routes where parents can safely drop off students for the school bus to pick up – keeping buses off icier, less-traveled back roads.
“The idea behind it, in a lot of areas of the Commonwealth, is the main roads are clear but you may have some snow-covered or ice-covered roads way back in the hollers, or the secondary roads,” said Roy Prince, the Kentucky Department of Education’s pupil transportation section supervisor. “Districts for years would call off school if the whole district couldn’t go. You may live on the east side of a county and I live on the west side and it’s sunny and clear on my side and your side is snow covered, so we’re wondering, ‘Why aren’t we going to school?’ It wasn’t unsafe; it’s just the buses can’t get down some of these roads that are inaccessible.”
Seeing a need
Lincoln County is one of those districts that has gotten calls from parents wondering why school was cancelled on a particular day. Ronnie Deatherage, director of transportation, said the geographic diversity in his district – one part may get snow and another not – makes having a snow route plan valuable.
“There are so many roads that we can run and we’ll just make allowances to where we can’t get to the kids and the parents can get them to us, and that’s how this all came into play,” he said.
Casey County was having to cancel so many days because of snowy back roads that it formalized its alternative routes three years ago, said Director of Transportation Craig Griffin.
“A lot of these side roads here, the sun doesn’t hit them. A lot of those were causing us trouble,” he said. “Our drivers know their routes and know when it snows which routes are going to get slick and stay slick the longest. Each driver went through their route and came up with the roads that they were going to run and we typed that up and sent a letter to all of the parents. And each year I have the drivers review that and review it with the students.”
Given the mild winters of late, Griffin said the plan has only been used once with some success.
“It didn’t affect our attendance as bad as you would think,” he said.
Communicating with parents
With school being called off an average of 18-20 days a year for bad weather in Greenup County Schools, Superintendent Steve Hall said the district formulated a plan to keep kids in the classroom as much as possible. It has not yet needed to use it, but is ready to put it in action. He said communication is key.
Before enacting the plan, the district got feedback from parents, especially those who would have to take their children to a pick-up spot.
“They were supportive,” Hall said. “Our parents obviously want their kids to do well in school and they will have a better chance for success if we have them in school more days.”
As a matter of fact, he said the parents who had to transport their children the farthest seemed to be the most supportive of the plan.
“Of course, not having used it in the last few years, we’ll have to revisit it and make sure our parents are knowledgeable and re-educate them about what the system includes and what routes we would run and which ones we would not,” Hall said. “And if a child cannot get safely to the bus stop, it is not going to be counted against them academically. Of course they can’t be counted as present, but we could not count it against them academically because they could not get there on an alternative day.”