Students braved towering berms, and more than two dozen school buses were stuck in the snow as the Anchorage School District reopened schools on Tuesday.
One parent said a bus was stuck near her house for more than hour while people tried to dig it out. One bus driver reported being stuck for two hours. Another parent said that on her drive to school, she saw students walking in the street to avoid clambering through snow berms.
Around 30 school buses of 203 on the road Tuesday morning were stuck on the way to school, according to the district’s acting chief operating officer Rob Holland. They weren’t all stuck at once, and some were only stuck for a few minutes, while others were stranded longer.
“The good news is we’re not aware of any mishaps or accidents yet involving one of our buses,” Holland said.
He said that while school parking lots were in good shape, the most trouble was along side streets.
“There’s just no way to predict whether a given number of buses would get stuck or not,” Holland said. “We have emergency plans, we have crews that rush out and help, some of the buses chained up, some did not need to, based on the routes they were on. And that approach worked as best as it possibly could given the conditions.”
On the way home Tuesday, six more buses got stuck, and there were additional delays, according to district spokeswoman Lisa Miller.
The district in an email had emphasized that sending students to school Tuesday came down to “parent choice,” and that absences would be excused and delays were expected.
While it varied school-to-school, attendance across the district on Tuesday was about 74% for elementary schools and around 76% for middle and high school students. Last year during normal school days in December, attendance was about 88%, according to the district.
“It’s kind of depending upon which school they’re at,” said Sven Gustafson, chief academic officer. “But it isn’t as bad as we thought.”
On the school district’s Facebook page, parents sounded off about various issues, including unplowed streets, the stuck buses, and buses with snow piled on top, creating hazards for other vehicles. Many questioned why schools were reopened.
On social media, the school district also apologized for issues caused by school buses “driving around for snow piled on their roof,” saying the issue had been addressed by the afternoon.
Tomme Hough lives within walking distance of the elementary school her child attends in Eagle River, but said plows tend to cover crossing areas with snow.
“So I drove my kids to school, but there’s still little kids that are shorter than the snow berms,” she said. “And they couldn’t even get over the snow berms to get onto the little bit of sidewalk that was plowed. So they were walking in the road.”
The sidewalks are covered with snow deeper than some kids are tall. And cars were barely able to make it past each other without touching mirrors. Children walking to school, impatient cars trying to pass cars turning into the school, and berms blocking visibility all left Hough “very worried.”
Lauren Humphries’ son takes a special education bus to preschool, and on Tuesday that bus got stuck near her house for about an hour and a half. Humphries said she doesn’t want to point fingers or get angry. The bus driver and two others helped to dig the bus out while an aide stayed on the vehicle with the kids.
“They did a really good job,” Humphries said. “And they did keep the kids safe. And there was somebody on the bus with them the whole time.”
Anchorage Education Association president Corey Aist said he’d heard from some teachers concerned about getting to work.
”Several had concerns that they were stuck and may not be able to get to school,” he said.
But for the most part, the day seemed to be going relatively smoothly, he said.
“I really think everybody is trying to make it work and do the best they can, given the situation. A large number of educators really want to be back in the classroom with their students, and are just disappointed the streets haven’t been cleared. I mean that’s really what it comes down to.”
Aist said the district and union are hashing out a plan for making up the lost school days, hopefully with an announcement by the end of the weekend.
And as for the rest of the school week?
”I’m hesitantly optimistic (that school will be in session),” he said. “But another foot of snow is forecast and Thursday may be challenging.”
Daily News journalists Michelle Theriault Boots and Loren Holmes contributed.