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Snow conditions raise concern over schools not closing

Posted: November 22, 2013 - 1:07am
A city employee plows snow from Marguerite Street in North Douglas on Thursday. The National Weather Service forecast for Friday calls for temperatures rising to 40 and rain.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
A city employee plows snow from Marguerite Street in North Douglas on Thursday. The National Weather Service forecast for Friday calls for temperatures rising to 40 and rain.

Lisa White recalled the look of gratitude on a little girl’s face Thursday morning after she directed the girl and another boy to walk on the sidewalk after she had finished shoveling off the snow that had built up overnight.

Before reaching White’s cleared section of sidewalk, the children were walking in the street to get to school because the snow build up on the uncleared sidewalks was too deep. So the children opted to walk to school using the only pathway provided to them, she said, which also happened to be the most dangerous.

“They’re walking on tracks of tires because the snow is so deep,” said White, who herself has a child in middle school.

“When the roads aren’t plowed and the sidewalks aren’t plowed, they have no choice” but to walk in the street, she said.

White runs a day-care at her home on the corner of Columbia and Taku Boulevard, which is near an elementary school bus stop. She said children walking in the roadways isn’t the only hazard amplified when the weather and road conditions worsen.

“At the intersection here, some people cannot stop in time and there are children here,” White said.

A few years back, a sport utility vehicle was unable to stop before slamming into a tree stump in her yard — the only thing between her house and the road, she said.

“Now I tell the children to stand behind the light pole or hydrant so there’s at least something between them and the cars,” White said. “I don’t want to read that a child has finally been hit because somebody couldn’t stop.”

The school district sent out a letter in September informing parents that the superintendent, city manager and first student bus company manager would meet and decide by 5 a.m. on potential closure days if schools will operate as usual, start late or be canceled for the day.

The letter’s opening paragraph states the possible reasons for school closure as unsafe driving or walking conditions for students.

“It is true that streets have priority over the sidewalks, so sidewalks are sometimes an issue,” said Juneau School District Chief of Staff Kristin Bartlett. “When the sidewalks are full, that’s what forces kids to the street.”

Still, the decision was made Thursday that the conditions were safe enough for school to go on. Officials are scheduled to meet Friday morning to make that call again.

“Conditions around our community vary a lot, so every area is different,” Bartlett said.

The letter sent out by Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich advised parents to make individual decisions about sending their children to school based on the conditions in their immediate area.

“Students who arrive late aren’t penalized for arriving late, we just want them to get to school,” Bartlett said. “It really is not worth the safety of the child to get in trouble because you’re late to school.”

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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