© Photo special to The Guardian by Allan MacRae
A school bus with students on board slid off the road in North Tryon Friday, Feb. 14.
School board says conditions deteriorated after decision made that classes would go ahead
ALBERTON – The English Language School Board acknowledges buses transported children to schools Friday in conditions that were less than optimal.
But the leader of corporate services for the board maintains the poor conditions developed after the decision was made that schools could go ahead on schedule.
“I get it. I’m a parent of small kids who travel from a secondary road, and it wasn’t great this morning; there’s no question about it," Dave Gillis said in an interview over the noonhour.
“What happened this morning, which was a little different than most mornings, is about 7 o’clock or so we had that big heavy rain hit, and what that did was it washed the salt and the sand that was on the roads off the roads.
“As long as that heavy rain was falling TIR (Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal) was in position where they couldn’t get everywhere they needed to be to redo,” Gillis explained.
Islandwide, Gillis said about a dozen buses became stranded, mostly from sliding into the deep snow at the edge of dirt roads or in getting stuck on ice in their turning locations.
One bus that went to pick up students from a stranded bus in the Ellerslie area also became stranded.
There were no injuries and no damage in any of the incidents, Gillis confirmed.
“In some situations we did have drivers make the determination that it was just too icy in their situation to proceed, so they just pulled over and they waited it out.”
Gillis explained that the process to determine whether conditions are safe for schools to go on schedule starts around 4:30 in the morning by studying the forecasts and checking with the Department of Transportation’s road checkers and dispatchers. The decision, he said, has to be made by 6 a.m. or a little after.
The ELSB, he said, transports about 19,000 students on more than 260 routes.
“It’s a big wheel to get moving,” and it’s one that has to be made by 6:30 a.m. because after that, he explained, buses are on the roads.
“When we got that heavy rain and it washed what was on the roads off the roads, that put us into a bind where we were into a situation we hadn’t counted on,” Gillis stressed.
Some callers to TC Media complained that residents in western P.E.I. are at a disadvantage because a transportation supervisor has not been filled. Bill Gillis retired last year.
Dave Gillis said that position has been posted and will be filled and based out of the Summerside board office.
The transportation co-ordinator for the ELSB, he said, is based out of the Stratford office.
Asked about concerns expressed about bus drivers being unable to get through to the Summerside office Friday morning for direction, the leader of corporate services said he is checking into that situation.
Once Friday’s heavy rain ended road conditions across the province showed marked improvement by late morning.