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Moser: Why is there no School?

It seems no matter what we do, snow wins! This latest snowfall, forecast to be 4-10 inches, was much closer to the minimum than the maximum.  VDOT was prepared with over 4,000 vehicles to clear snow and treat the 17,000 miles of roads in Northern Virginia. VDOT provided us with a tool to track the snowplows and ascertain where the plows had been and would be going. You can search (after 2” of snow) by zip code or street or address.

That VDOT page has everything needed to declare war on snow. You can view the mobilization plan, road status and resources right on that page. There’s even a legend to help you identify the many graphics that determine road conditions. With VDOT boasting 4,000 pieces of equipment, we all feel confident that no matter what nature throws at us, we can handle it!

So, what happened? Schools were closed on Jan 21, 22, and 23. On Friday, schools opened two hours late.

I absolutely would not want to be the person who decides whether school is open, closed or delayed due to inclement weather. That job should come with a warning: “The number of people you please may vary by time, date, location and number of preceding days off.”

I saw numerous comments on Facebook asking, “Why are schools closed? The roads are clear!”’

Karen Peak has the answer to that. She compiled a portfolio of photographs that she took and added photos that others took. She remained in contact with our Neabsco School Board Representative, Lisa Bell. Bell also travelled the roads and photographed some deplorable conditions.

Here are just a few observations that affect our communities:

Prince William County encompasses 348 square miles.

We have 85,000 children in our schools.

VDOT is responsible for clearing streets and roads on a priority basis. The schools are responsible for clearing their own property.

Prince William County is not responsible for snow removal. This text from PWCDOTVDOT provides all road maintenance in the County, including snow removal. VDOT fills potholes and repaves roads, clears drainage ditches along the roads, services storm drain outlets, and mows along roadsides and on medians. Contact VDOT by calling 1-800-367-7623. 

These arctic temperatures breed ice. If the sun shines enough to begin a melt, the pavement refreezes as soon as the sun is past peak. There just isn’t much anyone can do about layers of ice except pray for spring.

Not all residents are capable of shoveling snow. Some are ill, handicapped or elderly and we need some way to address that, BUT a vast number of apparently healthy residents seem to feel no obligation to clear their own sidewalks, let alone do any extra work to benefit children walking to school.

Yes, it absolutely is dangerous for children walking to school in ice, but this is not something to blame the schools, the board of county supervisors or VDOT. You needn’t blame global warming or Mother Nature or God. What you can do is have online classes or an alternate education plan like the Khan Academy. Home schooled children continued to work through the ice, snow and arctic temperatures. We all need a better plan. Whether we’re talking about children going to school or adults going to work, we need to find a way to function.

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  • paddy donuts

    This is not something new. Kids have been trudging to school uphill in 4 feet of snow for at least a century!

    Jurisdictions much larger than ours have had to deal with these very problems! Do we chose just not to learn from others lessons/wisdom?

    When did we as a society lose our ability to help ourselves?

    While our recent weather may not be the norm, it certainly is not the first time nor the last time, we will see it! So let’s stop blaming and acting like a bunch of whiners and be better prepared for next time!

    • Completely agree, Paddy. One of the best posts I saw was from a Boy Scout exec. who used to live in PWC. He wrote:

      Parents who are sick of their kids at home we must work together. We will only be able to get them out if the roads are clear. Everyone give you kids a snow shovel and tell them to start working on the road in front of your house. They aren’t allowed to stop shoveling till they go back to school.

      He may have meant it as a joke, but there is some serious good in that statement!

  • Karen Peak

    The issue is when I was in school up north – EVERYONE CLEARED WALKWAYS within 8 – 12 hours after a snow. There were NO ice and snow covered school bus stops. All school sidewalks were cleared. All roads were plowed well and then treated with grit/sand because salt does not work in these temperatures. We did not have students being forced to walk in the streets because people were too lazy to clear walks. It was common sense and common courtesy. THIS is the difference. Here people willingly leave very dangerous situations. I have watched people try to navigate horrid sidewalks next to businesses along very busy roads, slip and fall into traffic. I have watched students walk in busy streets to stay off bad side walks. Snow should not stop us but we should also not send 85,000 students out when they cannot safely traverse the sidewalks or that buses cannot get to schools because of lousy roads. Some of the pictures I took where of major bus routes.

    This is one of my last emails to Stewart regarding his “Gee you should know this info” reply I got over 48 hours after my first email:

    “This is where the road and sidewalk info came from and you can see my confusion:

    Original info:

    VDOT does highways and main roads. Side streets are county contracted. This came from a VDOT rep when I called in the past to get information on who plows.

    VDOT is responsible for sidewalks on main roads where there is no residence or adjacent business. This came from a county employee when I complained in the past.

    This is what I got today from VDOT and Mr. Stewart’s office also stated the VDOT info too.

    VDOT does all roads but not private ones (if there is a route number on the street sign, they do it). Once the roads are down to 2” of covering, call them to get them back to do more if it is still icy. Problem is they do not know bus routes for the schools so all roads after main ones are treated/prioritized the same. The rep even went through maps with me and was not happy what a previous rep told me. It was wrong!

    VDOT does not do any side walks (this conflicts with what I was told in the past by the county). Residents and businesses are responsible for sidewalks adjacent to their property. There is NO law stating is has to be done – it is just a recommendation by PWC Govt. Now I asked what about those sidewalks along Dale, Minnieville, PW Parkway, etc that have no houses or businesses on them. That is county responsibility. Originally a county representative told me that VDOT has plows to so those side walks.

    What is getting me now is took over 48 hours for the Board of County Supervisors to get back to me about streets. Also when I gave a list of the worst ones, they did not state I could call VDOT or that they would call VDOT. Had I been given correct info by VDOT and the county in the past or sooner, I would have made those calls, gotten the info on social media AND asked others to check roads and make calls.

    There is a lack of communication with the county and VDOT and residents. Added to this is the incorrect information both VDOT and the board has given me over the years and there was a lot of frustration. This poor communication does not look good for either agency and residents should not have to spend all this time tracking down accurate info. Also improved training for staff at both county and state level as to what to tell callers is needed.

    Karen Peak

    • Karen Peak, We (citizens, civic groups, Neabsco Action Alliance, Neighborhood Leaders Group) sought to create a new ordinance that would require people to shovel. There are 2 problems with that:

      1. It is nigh impossible for PWC to create an ordinance. In a Dillon Rule state, the only authority the county has come from the state. In other words, Richmond would need to propose such legislation to be passed to the county. Keep in mind much of our state is rural and this problem doesn’t affect many residents state-wide.
      2. A shoveling ordinance would be nearly impossible to enforce.

  • Connie Sprow

    I would have been happy to send my high schooler to school on Friday’s two hour delay if the PARKING LOTS at the SCHOOL had been cleared. The roads leading to the school were perfectly passable but the school parking lot for the students was a sheet of ice. If businesses can put down salt and clear their lots, the schools should be able to accomplish this BEFORE returning students to school.

    • Good point, Connie Sprow, and one that was mentioned frequently in an online discussion. I feel confident the school maintenance division will be getting some recommendation on doing a better job.

  • Karon Bosze

    I don’t think legislation is the way to make people shovel their sidewalks. I live in the 12500 block of Colby Drive (northeast end of Lake Ridge). I have visibility of 12 single home residential units. Of those, only three are occupied with school age children. One of those homes, I believe home schools their child, as I never see her waiting for a school bus or standing at the bus stop which is catty-corner to my home. Of those three homes, two have children of elementary school age and those children typically walk to school. They were driven to school this past Friday. Those two homes are the ONLY ones who made NO attempt to shovel their sidewalks and as of today (Sunday), they still have not shoveled their sidewalks. Of the 12 homes in total, four are occupied by unmarried persons with no children. We shoveled our sidewalks. One of the 12 homes is unoccupied. Presumably the neighbor on the south side paid her landscaping service to plow that sidewalk. She is a widowed elderly woman, whom I believe is now unable to do things for herself as she has her 40-something son living with her.

    Seems to me, based on the small survey here, the school system needs to send reminders home with its school walking children reminding THEIR parents to shovel THEIR sidewalks. The rest of us are doing our share of community upkeep.

    The only time I don’t shovel within 24 hours of a snowfall is when I am incapacitated, as was the case from Dec 2010 to Nov 2011, after falling in an inch of snow in my back yard and tearing completely two tendons in my right shoulder. Even then, I attempted to shovel my own driveway and walkways, only to help prevent me from falling again. I could not lift a snow shovel with both arms. And what I did shovel was done one-handed and was 10 times as laborious as it would have been had I been physically normal.

    • Hi Karen Bosze,

      Thank you for your comments. Believe me, I know exactly what you mean. My husband is nearly 63. He used our snowplow and cleared our entire block on our side of the street, as well as a couple of driveways and our own driveway.

      While he was working, he passed several home with people young enough to be our grandchildren, sitting in their nice warm homes.

      I appreciate your efforts and am reminded of our years of living on base. Everyone available pitched in. If a spouse was deployed, that sidewalk was they first one we shoveled. That’s the way community works.

  • Al Alborn

    I always chuckle to myself at the sidewalk and road plowing comments. We don’t have sidewalks in my mid-county neighborhood, and we take care of our own roads (maintenance, potholes, plowing) in my private community. Kids wait in the street for their bus. Folks out walking or bike riding likewise do so in the street, there is literally nothing (no taxpayer funded amenities) anywhere near my community.

    I chose my community to get away from an over-reaching HOA in Woodbridge. Our real estate taxes in my neighborhood are a bit higher than most because of property values, but I am used to paying “more for less”. I don’t object to paying higher taxes for fewer services to have Government take care of your community if that’s the price of keeping it out of mine.

    • Rural

      I live in the Rural Crescent. Mr. Alborn’s comments sums up how I felt when I read this article.

      I didn’t really consider the tax aspect until I read his comment. Not sure I’m comfortable subsidizing the city folk. Probably not much I can do about it, but worth a call to Covngton.

      • Thanks, Rural…I’m not looking to add any additional services that will cost any more tax dollars.

        I don’t think your remark “subsidizing the city folk” is appropriate, for we are not a city…we are part of the county, just like the rural crescent. (That I fight to maintain, unscathed, by the way LoL)

        The cities have services we in the county do not.

        The point I was attempting to make is in the summary at the end of the column:

        “Yes, it absolutely is dangerous for children walking to school in ice, but this is not something to blame the schools, the board of county supervisors or VDOT. You needn’t blame global warming or Mother Nature or God. What you can do is have online classes or an alternate education plan like the Khan Academy. Home schooled children continued to work through the ice, snow and arctic temperatures. We all need a better plan. Whether we’re talking about children going to school or adults going to work, we need to find a way to function.”

    • Hi Al,

      Thanks for your comments. If kids waited in the street in our neighborhood, there would be hundreds of them and cars would be even more hazardous.

      There is no reason why residents in our neighborhoods can’t take care of their own sidewalks and driveways and make it safe for kids to walk to school.

      Bill and I have worked with other volunteers on several occasions to dig out the path and the intersections that impede safety for students in our neighborhood.

      With more than 4,600 people per square mile and a median age of 32, there’s no reason why people can’t get out there and pitch in…They just don’t.

  • Margaret

    This topic is close to home for me as someone that uses the sidewalks frequently around here and grew up in Canada. We just don’t have the infrastructure to deal with the snow the same way, up there a plow is usually accompanied by a tractor with a special attachment that sucks up the snow and dumps it into a constant train of dump trucks which once full will head off to the city’s snow dump. That allows for the sidewalks to also get completely cleared, here the sidewalks are used by the plows to dump the snow from the roads, since there is literally no other place for it. Especially on Dale Blvd where there are no parking lanes for much of the road. You end up with huge piles of half melted snow and ice on the sidewalks and even if they are not big piles, they are absolutely treacherous to walk on. Right now
    I would be out running, but I like having ankles that are not broken lol.

    • Hi Margaret,

      That was a great point that no one had yet addressed. It’s not as obvious in four inches of snow, but if you recall the year we had 39″ it was easy to see where the plows deposited the snow, simply because there was no place to put it.

      It’s frustrating for people who shovel out their driveways only to see the plows come through and block us again, too! 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

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