Albemarle School Board Considering Snow Routes

The Albemarle County School Board is looking at restricting school buses to major roads on snowy days, Tim Shea reports for Charlottesville Tomorrow. County schools have closed for snow on 11 days this winter (prior to Monday’s snow), and the school transportation director figures that would have been closer to 7 days if they weren’t picking up kids on rural routes. This discussion is prompted by complaints of parents who live in developed areas of the county, whose subdivisions are plowed promptly, and are mystified by school closings. (Of course, there are huge swaths of the county where it can take a day or two for a plow to come through.) Those folks don’t know why school has to be cancelled for all kids just because a minority of kids can’t make it. So the proposal being considered is to establish “plan B routes,” basically driving school buses only on major roads, and putting the onus on parents (and kids) to get themselves to bus stops along those roads. The routes they’re looking at now would leave out 1,600 kids, or about 12% of students.

It turns out, interestingly, that Albemarle has already tried this, in the late 1990s. It didn’t work. There was no place for parents to park, due to snow berms along the side of the road, and of course there were safety issues associated with getting kids to those bus stops. (If it’s not safe for a school bus to drive on unplowed roads, then it’s probably not safe for parents transporting kids, or kids driving themselves to school.)

There’s an added twist. Albemarle is required by law, to provide door-to-door transportation for about 120 disabled students. Period. Some of those students live on roads that are not plowed promptly, which seems like a pretty serious obstacle to implementing this plan.

The board hasn’t taken any action, and isn’t planning to. They’re still looking to find out more about what’s to be done, if anything, about snow days resulting from rural road conditions.

15 thoughts on “Albemarle School Board Considering Snow Routes”

  1. Here’s how I think this will play out:

    Tens of thousands will be spent on studies regarding the feasibility of retrofitting snowplows onto the fronts of buses. Danville & Lynchburg will weigh in repeatedly until some member of the BOS works behind the scenes to get the votes to push it through. A late night vote will approve the snowplows we’ve been waiting twenty years for! Hundreds of thousands will be spent on a design-build plan because the snowplows interfere with the safety gates on the fronts of the buses. The next election cycle will see the BOS change sentiment on this plan. They’ll hold a drop-dead meeting where every speaker will be heard. The BOS will drop support for the plan; the Feds will weigh in telling us not to be silly. Boyd-of-the-future will insist that an advocacy group for disabled students that aired a few TV ads but didn’t fill out the right paperwork needs to be criminally charged.

    I may be reaching a bit here…

  2. You forgot the part where the design firm’s bid turns out not to include snow tires on the buses. Adding those raises the cost to the same level as the honest bids.

  3. I’m pretty interested/invested in this issue (as a parent of ACPS kids). I know that snow routes are used around the country, in parts of the country with much more snow and just as many rural roads and the same rules regarding special ed kids as we have. It works there. I can’t figure out why it couldn’t work here. The status quo is, IMO, absurd. I hope that part of the research process is to study the snow route plans of other comparable school systems and figure out how they make it work. I think that ACPS has decided that the safe (from a litigation viewpoint) plan is to err on the side of canceling, and then “make up” the days in mid-June, but the fact is that replacing a day of school on 2/13 with a day on 6/13 is not in any way an equivalent trade. 6/13 is a day of watching movies and goofing off. 2/13 would have been a day of actual work. So while the day-counters might say “there, the day was made up, we held school on the right number of days,” from an educational-value standpoint, there’s no equivalency.

  4. Why not take the opportunity to re-consider when the kids should go to school. Years ago when Albemarle was an Agriculture area, it made sense for the majority of the school year to be in the fall. Now, with such a minority in ag related jobs/business, why not shift the calendar so that the winter months you have more time off anyway? Shift it so that you go longer in June/July and less in Jan/Feb. Then this whole snow route thing goes away. It will take the same amount of time to figure new snow routes as it will to introduce more school in spring/summer. Just a thought.

  5. I like imagining that the safety gates on the front of the buses will be adapted to function like giant windshield wipers , but I’m not betting that that’s going to happen .
    If every rural household had a fast internet connection, there might be a way to attend classes thru some sort of skype-like program.

  6. Except that the power outages that usually accompany the kind of snowfall that closes schools would knock the fast internet connection out. Regarding whatever portion of the 120 students with IEPs that require door-to-door transportation who actually live on a frequently-impassable rural road — IEPs can be written to deal with this possibility. They have to be rewritten every year, I believe, anyway. “If snow routes are in effect and Student A cannot be reached because of snow, then _____ will be provided.” Creative educators can certainly come up with something to fill in that blank that will meet the needs of that student. What’s cray-cray, to me, is the idea that those 120 students (or whatever portion of them live on rural roads) can be the deal-breaker that keeps THOUSANDS of students on clean clear roads from going to school.

  7. The school board should not cave in to too many special interests.

    They should SET the calendar, BUILD IN the make-up days, USE them when regular classes do not convene and MOVE ON with the business of educating the students.

    So what if parents aren’t happy? They have the choice to send, or NOT send their children OR move them out of the public schools.

    NOTHING gets accomplished when you cater to ALL special interests / needs. SET your agenda and move forward!

  8. Blockhead, um…no. Have you not noticed that power outages are not evenly distributed around the county? That the more sparsely populated rural tend to stay without power longer than the more densely populated suburban and urban areas? My point was a response to the idea that instead of using snow routes to get the majority of our students to school, we just cancel school because 10% of the kids live on impassable roads and have cyber school instead.

    Citizen, I don’t think parents are a “special interest” any more than admin and teachers are. They’re kind of a primary stakeholder, in fact. And I think that “the business of educating students” is most effectively accomplished if the kids do NOT have what amounts to a second, snow-day-winter break shortly following the first, holiday-winter break that is then “made up” by adding five days in mid-June during which nothing of any educational value happens. The agenda *should* be how best to educate the majority of the students. Tacking days on in June doesn’t achieve that.

  9. To clarify:

    Don’t focus on the things you can’t control: the weather, the disadvantaged students the school must transport, one group of parents who want one thing, the other group who want another, etc.

    Control the things you can: the start of school, the finish of school, HOW missed days are to be made up.

    Set a policy. Accept the fact that not everyone can or will ever be pleased.

    I suggest when a school day is missed, either the next SAT or the next student holiday, whichever comes first, is used. That way the interruption to the learning sequence is lessened.

    If you run out of SATs and/or student holidays, set aside the spring break. Maintain the established finish date of school and students (and families) can enjoy the summer holiday, as planned.

    Regarding the SAT class times, parents and students can decide whether to attend, whether the educational time is more important than an extracurricular function, a job, a family event, a planned vacation. Some parents take their children out of school through-out the year for any number of reasons. This same approach shall also apply to whatever system is decided for make-up days.

    Seems pretty simple to me (as one who has experienced my suggested approach to make-up days as both a student and as a parent).

    SOLs can be administered as planned and no students attend school in mid-JUN when no learning takes place.

    I’ll need to check the County School Division’s mission to confirm whether it’s to educate “all” children or the just the “majority.”

  10. Seriously, why not Saturdays? Are we afraid to ruin the travel soccer team schedule or the trip we planned to NYC?

  11. “Regarding the SAT class times, parents and students can decide whether to attend, whether the educational time is more important than an extracurricular function, a job, a family event, a planned vacation. Some parents take their children out of school through-out the year for any number of reasons. This same approach shall also apply to whatever system is decided for make-up days.”

    I love this, actually–letting parents/students decide what’s a valuable use of their time. As a parent who has done both homeschool and school-school, my beef #1 with school-school is the refusal of the institution to accommodate a parent/family’s desire to pick and choose a bit more than is currently possible. The institution tends towards an all-or-nothing approach, and part of that is the mandated number of hours that a certain percentage of kids MUST be “in school.”

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