Icy weather cancels buses, closes roads

Peggy Revell

It was a busy afternoon yesterday for parents, teachers, and school administrators as some school buses were cancelled due to icy road conditions after students already were in class.
“I’ve been involved with education for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like that, where the buses actually run and then it’s too dangerous to go out on the roads,” Jack McMaster, director of education for the Rainy River District School Board, said this morning.
While the main routes were fine, the amount of ice on numerous side roads meant unsafe conditions for buses, he explained.
“It was just over the lunch that we made the call to not run the buses, and put the ads on the radio and contacted folks,” McMaster noted. “Again, it was something that we’ve never had to do before.
“Parents mobilized right away, as soon as it was out on the radio,” he added. “And a real credit for the parents, for those who couldn’t make it in, they were making arrangements with relatives and friends.”
Following the decision to cancel the buses, the principals at each school were told to contact McMaster if any students were stranded without a way home.
“We had a contingency plan for students that might have been stranded in the school,” he explained, which would include making accommodations for that student if needed.
“What traditionally happens is that we have telephone chains where, if the buses aren’t able to come back to the school, that we just get on the phone and all the parents are contacted personally by the school to know that they have to come and pick up the children,” said Mary-Catherine Kelly, director of education for the Northwest Catholic District School Board.
Schools are responsible for the child until the parent is contacted and can come to pick them up, she added.
The parents were wonderful about the situation, she added, noting most of the children already were home or on their way home by 3:30-4 p.m.
“[The parents] were excellent,” Kelly stressed. “I would pass on my thank you for the parents for working with us to ensure that the children get home safely.”
“I really do have to tip my hat to the parents,” echoed McMaster. “We had very few calls to the board office, and when we explained the situation of how dangerous it was, they were very understanding and I think of the fact that we were thinking of student safety.
“We’ve had kind of an interesting year, to say the least, with respect to the three cold days we’ve had in January . . . and so we’re pulling a committee together of our transportation people, some of our bus drivers, and we’ll look at the anomalies that have occurred this year and tweak our procedures accordingly,” he added.
“We have to keep in mind that our policies we try to keep flexible enough so that our procedures can be developed to be more specific to address these things.”
Meanwhile, the icy weather caused the closure of several highways overnight, including Highway 11 between the junction of Highway 502 and Highway 11B in Atikokan as well as Highway 502 north to Dryden
Both highways have since re-opened.
Meanwhile, police responded to several accidents due to freezing rain and ice-covered roads, including a pulp truck that slid into the ditch and MTO sanders sliding into the ditch.
No injuries were reported.