Normalcy is returning to some parts of the Atlantic and Northeast regions in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which was downgraded to a Tropical Storm even as it ravaged diverse communities from New York to West Virginia.
Ben Shew, executive director of the Office of School Transportation at the West Virginia Department of Education, told School Transportation News some higher-elevation areas got six feet of snow from this week’s blizzard.
“Electricity repairs in some remote areas where our buses run may not be back in service until late next week or longer; however, schools with only a few exceptions will be open Monday. We are not aware of any loss of buses, but many buses are housed at the driver’s home and communication is still problematic,” said Shew.
He noted that schools were slowly but surely starting to reopen. On Thursday, he said 15 of 55 county school systems remained closed, down from 20 on Wednesday and 44 on Tuesday. An additional eight counties had schools closed due to lack of electricity or impassable roads.
“It may take several days before things return to normalcy,” Shew continued. “We are down to nine counties that are still closed (Friday). The electrical problem has been reduced by 60 percent, with about 100,000 households still without power.”
In Pennsylvania, East Penn School District reopened, but bus contractor First Student told parents to be prepared to drive their children if necessary. Don Swift, the company's area general manager, advised parents to bring their kids to the nearest accessible street corner. Swift said his drivers were out all day Thursday driving their routes to get a feel for road conditions. They were able to use regular East Penn bus routes Friday morning, though several district streets closed Tuesday remained that way.
“Until we can get down the streets, we will try to accommodate everyone’s needs the best we can,” Swift said.
Lower Merion (Pa.) School District Superintendent Dr. Christopher McGinley e-mailed parents last night to inform them power had been restored at Cynwyd, Bala Cynwyd and Penn Valley, along with safe driving routes, so their schools would reopen Friday, except Harriton.
He told parents of school bus riders to expect buses to be late, to wait with their child at the bus stop and to have a back-up plan, such as driving or carpooling.
“Due to road closures, many of our buses will need to take alternate routes to get to your bus stop. These routes are changing by the hour. In some cases, it may not be possible for our buses to reach you,” wrote the superintendent, adding that parents should call to check the status of their bus if it is more than 20 minutes late.
Dr. McGinley also asked parents of children who walk to school to escort them because downed trees, branches and power lines will make some roads difficult to navigate.
In Delaware, Ron Love, supervisor of school transportation at the state Department of Education, told STN that schools there were closed Monday and Tuesday. Most of the state’s 19 school districts reopened Wednesday, with three experiencing two-hour delays because of road conditions. Four public schools remain closed, along with one out of 22 charter schools.
“Delaware still has some roads flooded, some water on some roads, and that’s why some of the districts are still closed. But at least some districts were able to start back up,” Love said.
Boston Public Schools Director of Transportation Carl Allen told STN that schools were closed Monday but reopened Tuesday with just a few glitches.
“We had a pretty good day, actually: some driver attendance issues perhaps but good on-time performance, no damage to speak of and schools ran as normal,” said Allen. “We coordinated closely with city officials across departments to identify and track the remaining handful of street sections that persisted throughout the night and day today.”
He noted that the district took precautions Monday to secure its bus yards, to protect buses from being damaged and to be prepared for flood risk, among other things.
New York City schools remained closed for the rest of this week, with approximately 200 of the 1,400 public school buildings flooded or damaged by the superstorm. While schools are set to reopen on Monday, some students may have to find alternate transportation after school buses were swamped in coastal parking lots. The buses responsible for transporting some 600,000 public and private school students sustained damage in the flooding and some were still drying out or being repaired on Friday.
Bus contractor Atlantic Express operates hundreds of routes from parking lots located in areas inundated by surges of water Monday night, including Coney Island, Queens and the Bronx shore. Even though the company’s repair shop was also flooded, Foreman Mickey Hayes said he was optimistic the fleet would be ready to roll when schools reopen Monday.
Amid massive cleanup efforts in the state’s coastal areas, the New York Association for Pupil Transportation continued to offer encouragement to student transporters on its Facebook page.
“Many are still without power but some are coming back on line — please do share your stories and info on if and when you are opening again — it's what we are here for,” the latest post stated. “Take care and be safe and remember you are not alone out there.”