A week ago today, a Hiawatha School District 426 bus carrying 22 students skidded off an icy Malta Road and went into a ditch.
The bus was then hit by not one, but two passing vehicles whose drivers were unable to negotiate the same ice-covered stretch of road. One of the vehicles that hit the bus was a plow truck that was spreading salt.
We are thankful that none of the children on the school bus were hurt that morning. But we also understand why some parents would be angry that school officials decided to put that bus on the road, and why if that decision was made, the roads in the area were not safe for traffic.
Given that not only the bus driver but two other drivers also lost control on Malta north of Baseline Road near Kirkland, it seems fair to presume the road was impassable. Usually, when roads are impassable, school is canceled for reasons of student safety, as it was in Rockford and Belvidere school districts Friday.
District Superintendent Sarah Willey said it was her call to keep the schools open Friday, a decision she made after conferring with Franklin Township Highway Commissioner James Patterson around 5 a.m.
The area where the bus went off the road is the DeKalb County Highway Department’s responsibility. So count them as among the agencies that dropped the ball.
If schools are going to be in session, parents depend upon local governments – city, county and township government – to ensure roads will be safe for their children’s bus. If that requires more communication and coordination than usual, so be it. School buses are different than ordinary vehicles – they carry our communities’ most precious cargo.
Willey said she figured that weather conditions must have changed between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. Friday, and although that’s possible, we were alerted well in advance that ice was in the forecast – there were freezing rain advisories issued from 7:30 p.m. Thursday evening until noon Friday. Ice was present on local roads for hours.
If officials confer with one another and decide the roads can be made safe and schools should be open, they then have an obligation to make sure that is the case, particularly roads that are used as bus routes.
That did not happen last week in Kirkland, and we are all fortunate that the results were not worse than some damage to a school bus.