Alerts went out for Kenai Peninsula Borough School District students and their families Tuesday morning after one First Student bus couldn’t make it down its regular route on Feuding Lane and another slid off the road before taking making any pickups.
A total of four routes that drop off at River City Academy, Skyview Middle School, Soldotna High School, Soldotna Prep and Sterling Elementary ran late because of weather and road conditions.
“As far as we know the kids all got to school,” said Pegge Erkeneff, school district spokesperson.
All afternoon routes were completed and no schools reported that students hadn’t made it to class, she said.
However, there was no morning pickup on Feuding Lane because the streets were too slick, Erkeneff said. She said she is unsure how many students live down that road.
The school district has requested that the Department of Transportation sand Feuding Lane. No further delays were be announced or required Tuesday afternoon.
A spare bus was sent for the students that would not be picked up by the driver whose bus went into the ditch on Adkins Road in Sterling prior to the start of the route, Erkeneff said. The bus was in a “park out,” which means the vehicle stayed at the driver’s home overnight. No students were on the bus, she said.
Tamara Nelson, who lives on Adkins Road, has two students that attend Sterling Elementary and Soldotna High School and said none made it to school Tuesday. She said she is signed up to receive alerts from the school district but hadn’t heard about any route delays by the time her children were ready to leave the house, which was frustrating.
Further, the path to and down the road to the bus stop was sheer ice, Nelson said. As of 3:30 p.m. the bus that slid off the road was still stuck in the ditch, even after there had been two attempts to haul it out, which she thought would take a crane to accomplish, she said. She believes the driver didn’t have much of a chance considering how icy the road was.
“When you look from your house and there’s a bus that’s off a 10-foot embankment, that gives you pause for sure,” she said.
Nelson said, regardless of the conditions, she still felt it was safe enough to send her kids to school.
A sand truck didn’t make a trip down Nelson’s street until after the bus was in the ditch. It is her second winter living in the area and said delayed sanding isn’t uncommon.
“My main point the borough needs to do something the roads,” Nelson said. “They need to have somebody come out and they need to have a sand truck come out (earlier).”
When contacted, Larry Fielding, First Student contract manager, said he is not authorized to speak on behalf of the company, but that at least two of the regular education buses were chained Tuesday morning.
The road conditions weren’t a complete surprise to the school district.
“We have had a warmer winter, so we are getting more icy days,” Erkeneff said.
She said the result of the season’s weather patterns has caused a few delays already. When it snows and melts, ice develops on the roads, which can be problematic, but is expected from time to time, she said.
The school district’s transportation department is in contact with First Student every morning, Erkeneff said. She receives alerts when any routes will be late and relays them through the various methods used to make emergency announcements on school delays and closures.
Notices are only issued if a bus is more than 10 minutes late or early, Erkeneff said. Occasionally a bus can be run late part way through the route, but then make up that time later if there are no students waiting at a stop for example, she said.
The school district can track where their buses are with the GPS devices installed in the vehicles, Erkeneff said.
First Student usually decides whether or not to put chains on vehicle wheels, but the school district has insisted on chaining the buses in certain cases in the past, Erkeneff said.
“It is an excused absence if they (the students) are not picked up,” Erkeneff said.
If parents do not feel safe letting their student travel to school, they just need to call and inform staff they will be absent that day, and that is also considered to be excused, she said.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.