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February 19, 2013
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Snowstorm challenging for schools, student drivers


The snow that blanketed Nevada County Tuesday left a positive effect on the scenery, but a negative effect on schools and drivers.

Nevada Joint Union High School District released students at 12:30 p.m. to ensure the safety of students, said Marianne Cartan, NJUHSD superintendent.

“The high school district always chooses to err on the side of caution, so we’re more conservative and will release early,” Cartan said. “Because we don’t know if (the snow) will or won’t (stop). We have students who live in high elevations, so they might be fine on Ridge Road, but they have to get home. So we have to make sure.”

Some parents disagreed with the decision to let students out in the middle of the storm, as some student drivers reportedly slid along the road and crashed their cars.

“I think it was really idiotic. We know that the storm was coming, it wasn’t a surprise,” said Rhiannon Weiss, a Penn Valley resident and parent of a Nevada Union student. “We didn’t even get an all-call, which is not OK, because if my daughter was driving and didn’t have a way to get a hold of me; she’s just out there.”

Some students also had to wait until buses for hours after the 12:30 p.m. release time.

“The buses didn’t even get there until 2:30 p.m.,” Weiss said. “It’s ridiculous to let all these kids that aren’t drivers just go without informing parents.”

The buses were equipped with chains and experienced no incidents, said Paula Davison, operational supervisor for Durham Bus Services.

“A lot of cars were strewn (around) and we had to wait for cars to clear. Since the snow has melted, all the buses ran perfectly,” Davison said. “No one has a crystal ball and I can see here now that we should have waited. But at the time when the snow is dumping, you have to try to make the best decision for the students.”

Some parents suggested the decision to let school out at 12:30 p.m. was due to a perceived cut-off time for the school to receive credit for the state’s Average Daily Attendance funding. But school officials said that wasn’t the case.

According to Assistant Superintendent Karen Suenrum, the requirement for full-day credit was met at 10:45 a.m., so the decision to send students home at 12:30 p.m. had no connection to the acquisition of school revenue through attendance.

Nevada Union Principal Michael Blake, who was reached by phone at a California Interscholastic Federation meeting in Stockton, said the decision to let students out at that time was due to the bus schedule and lunch, he said.

“It sounded like they needed to allow time for Durham to chain up because there was question,” Blake said. “It sounded like things were pretty chaotic. So by waiting, there was thinking that perhaps traffic would clear and our buses were arriving late and we had our lunches available so we thought we would at least feed the kids.”

Grass Valley School District released students at regular time because of the district’s bus services connection with Nevada Joint Union High School District.

“We’re pretty tied in with transportation with the high school and since they released students at 12:30 p.m., they will get the buses first, so we will be releasing at regular time, since you can’t both run at the same time,” said Grass Valley School District Superintendent Eric Fredrickson.

“One of the most stressful things I do is snow days because it impacts everybody and everybody has an opinion, but the way I look at it, I have the kids in school, they’re safe. If parents want to get out and try to pick them up, they’re welcome to.

“If it was a storm that was going to last all night long (that would be different), but this is supposed to taper off.”

The high school district also talks with Durham Bus Services to determine whether to declare a snow day or an early closure of school, Cartan said.

“We stay in contact with Durham during days like this and they were feeling fine about the buses with the roads not sticking and then we talked again and it was going back and forth,” Cartan said. “It’s really a very hard call so we err on the side of our driving students, and parents always have the option to pick up their students.”

Nevada City School District maintained a normal school schedule and sent a message out to parents to assure that buses would have chains as necessary. Students were encouraged to remain in class.

Chicago Park School does not have a bus system, as typical of smaller schools, so students are not released once at school, said Dan Zeisler, superintendent, Chicago Park Elementary School District.

“Once we’re open, we’re open,” Zeisler said. “So we’re here until the last parent comes to pick up their kids. When it gets really bad, I will do an all-call and tell parents if they feel safety is a concern, feel free to come by. I only go with the high school before school starts.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email jterman@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.


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The Union Updated Feb 20, 2013 08:46AM Published Feb 20, 2013 09:02AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.