Empire Editorial: Snow safety

A student must pass through a berm of snow to cross the street on the way to Harborview Elementary School.

This week’s snowfall seemed to have caught Juneau unprepared.

During the first dusting on Wednesday, a vehicle traveling north on Egan Drive slid into a light pole in front of Harborview Elementary. The downed pole caused a literal hurdle in the middle of the road and both northbound lanes were blocked until the pole was removed.

A day later it snowed nearly a foot, which forecasters had predicted days in advance, but Thursday morning commuters were driving on snow-covered roads to get to work and students were using tire tracks as paths to school because sidewalks weren’t cleared. As a community we can do better.

Communities in the Lower 48 that get a few feet per year are the ones that shouldn’t be prepared. For Alaskans, dealing with heavy snowfall is incorporated into our way of life. Between November and April, it could dump a few feet at any given time. We know that, which means we should always be prepared.

A community member contacted the Empire’s office on Thursday because she saw students walking in tire paths on their way to a school bus stop. When the story published Friday, other community members and parents of school-aged children came forward with similar experiences. One even took a photo of a child walking across a snow berm on their way to school because the crosswalk in front of Harborview Elementary and the School District office was blocked.

Situations like these put our youth at risk and conversations need to be had to prevent them in the future. Children and cars can’t be allowed to travel the same path, nor should students walk through busy intersections because crosswalks are either inaccessible or dangerous to navigate.

There’s a lot of moving parts when it comes to snow removal and school delays and cancellations — city, state and school officials discuss and assess weather conditions hours before the school day is to begin.

Schools Superintendant Glenn Gelbrich wrote in a letter to parents earlier this year that parents should make individual decisions about whether their child should go to school based on snow conditions in their areas. In a follow up interview, a school district spokesperson assured that students who are late because of inclement weather won’t be penalized.

Keeping a child home or driving them to school instead of having the child walk or take the bus isn’t an option for every household, however. Some families don’t drive, and others have jobs that require them to be at work earlier than the rest of us. Those students have no choice but to hoof it in the snow, either to school or a bus stop.

Before Juneau gets its next heavy snowfall, we hope the school district will address some of these concerns with the City and Borough of Juneau and the Department of Transportation. The need to keep our youth safe can never be overstated. We also encourage members of the community to do their part by shoveling sidewalks in front of their homes. The responsibility of providing safe walkways, not just for students but for all members of the community, belongs to us all.

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