DPS CORNER: Keeping children safe during severe weather

Feb. 24, 2014 @ 09:52 AM

Students come first in Durham Public Schools. That applies to their safety as well as their academic success. The heavy snows and traffic jams Durham County experienced Feb. 12 made for a challenging afternoon commute, and some of our buses were caught in that. DPS employees, however, made a total team effort to ensure every child’s safety.
When severe weather threatens, our transportation and operations staff is glued to the National Weather Service’s twice-daily briefings as well as local forecasts. We use multiple sources to make the best decision we can with the information we have. We have to consider high school students and employees who drive themselves as well as our bus riders.
During inclement weather we have additional resources on standby, with additional bus drivers on call to come in early, additional mechanical staff on alert and tow trucks activated and ready to go in case buses have trouble maneuvering. We made our preparations and announced an early dismissal for Feb. 12.
The snow arrived on schedule, but fell significantly faster than expected. We have a two-tiered bus schedule; the first tier of buses completed their runs without serious incident. By the time the last group of buses made their runs, Durham commuters were heading for home all at once. Gridlock followed.
There was only one minor bus accident on Feb. 12, for which the driver was not at fault. Five buses required a tow. Only 30 buses out of 260 were caught in traffic or were delayed. The GPS transmitters and radios on each bus helped district transportation staff to dispatch SUVs to stuck or stranded buses, which our drivers refused to leave until their students were safely on their way home.
Many DPS employees went the extra mile. Some mechanics such as Hercules Myers who had already left for the day came back to assist. Bus drivers such as Mark Young finished their bus routes and immediately volunteered to go back out in an SUV. Even Area Superintendent for Middle Schools Julie Spencer picked up students and a driver from a stranded bus.
At the end of a long, snowy day we were able to bring all of our students safely home. “This is a group of people that constantly works on behalf of our students,” said Scott Denton, DPS executive director for auxiliary services. “Transportation Director Marlon Watson and his team kept our students safe and worked the phones to reassure parents. Our schools did everything they needed to dismiss in an orderly fashion. There are some things we can improve on, but I’m proud of what we accomplished.”
DPS schools remained closed through the rest of the week, a mixed blessing to the families of restless, snowed-in students. The DPS Board of Education will determine additional makeup days at its Feb. 27 meeting. In the meantime, DPS drivers, mechanics and other transportation staff continue bringing our students to and from their studies. They might be forgiven, however, if they occasionally look to the clouds and ask, “Are we done for the winter yet?”
Do you have a question about Durham Public Schools? Email it to the DPS Office of Public Information and Community Engagement for the monthly “Ask DPS” column: PICE@dpsnc.net.