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January 10, 2014

Superintendent takes blame after bus slides off icy road

I made the wrong call. Ultimately, I make the decision. I apologize.
— David Jeck, Fauquier school superintendent
Official statement
School system Public Information Coordinator Karen Parkinson issued this statement at 1:30 p.m. Friday:

“Tough calls: On and off the mark”

Weathering his first winter as superintendent of Fauquier County Public Schools – and making his first decisions here about school closings and delays – Dr. David Jeck admits this week was a particular challenge. He said he felt he made the right call to cancel school two days back in December and again on Tuesday of this week in the face of a National Weather Service warning of “dangerously low” wind chills. He also felt he made the right call to hold school this past Wednesday with still-low temperatures but better wind-chill conditions. However, he said his decision to hold school today with a two-hour delay was, in hindsight, off the mark.

“I made the wrong call this morning,” he said, an admission he made in a half dozen emails to parents who wrote to complain. The School Board Office also received phone calls regarding the decision, and similar complaints were posted on social media. “Operating on the best information I received this morning, I made the decision, and I accept responsibility,” Dr. Jeck said.

Before the superintendent makes a decision about school closings, members of the school division’s transportation department begin checking the roads between 3 and 4 a.m., riding the roads for a firsthand look across the 60-mile-long county. In addition, the assistant superintendent for administration gathers information on road conditions and weather conditions from the National Weather Service, the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Department, and the Virginia Department of Transportation. Based on information available from these sources at the time, the superintendent tries to make a decision around 5 a.m. in each inclement-weather situation. This morning – with temperatures throughout Fauquier County registering at 34 degrees at that time, coupled with the prediction that temperatures would rise and precipitation would be rain by 9 a.m. – Dr. Jeck said he believed a two-hour delay would be the safe and appropriate call.

“I try to base every decision like this on student and staff safety. This one clearly missed the mark, and again, I apologize,” the superintendent said, noting that he plans to review the processes that are in place for inclement weather decisions to determine if there are ways to make improvements.

Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated that Superintendent David Jeck spent Thursday night in Roanoke. He left home at 4:30 a.m. Friday to drive down for his presentation at the conference. FauquierNow regrets the error.

• • •

After a bus slid off the road near New Baltimore on Friday morning, Fauquier’s superintendent took the blame for opening schools.

“I made the wrong call,” David Jeck said by phone as he drove back from Roanoke at 11:30 a.m. “Ultimately, I make the decision. I apologize.”

With 20 students aboard, Bus 98 slid off Hillside Drive, near Grays Mill Road, at 8:42 a.m., sheriff’s Lt. James Hartman said.

There were no injuries, but first responders worried that the bus might flip, Lt. Hartman said.

“Near the top of the hill, it hit a patch of ice, pulling the back end of the bus off the left edge of the road,” Assistant Superintendent Janice Bourne wrote in an email. “The front of the bus remained on the road. Because of the ice, the bus was not able to continue the route.”

Ten of the passengers were bound for Auburn Middle School and 10 for Kettle Run High, Ms. Bourne said.

First responders took students to the old New Baltimore firehouse on Route 29, where another bus picked them up and took them to their schools.

Because of ice, county schools opened two hours late Friday.

In social media posts, hundreds of parents have questioned the decision to open schools under such conditions.

“We have a team of folks who check road conditions and the weather,” Dr. Jeck said. “The information I got this morning at 5 was that it was gonna warm up and turn to rain . . . . I accept responsibility.”

When he learned of the torrent of criticism on social media, the superintendent left a conference in Roanoke, where he had driving early Friday morning, leaving hope at 4:30 a.m. Dr. Jeck was to make a presentation Friday to the gathering of “aspiring superintendents.”

After he began getting emails and messages, “I told the guy, my heart wasn’t in it” and headed back to Fauquier.

The superintendent said he will meet Ms. Bourne and Transportation Director Cheryl Fisher to review the school system’s process for determining whether to hold classes in threatening weather.

“That’s what we can do, learn from this and try to foolproof our process,” he said.

Administrators have closed schools four times so far in 2013-14, including Tuesday because of extremely low temperatures.

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graybeard · January 13, 2014 at 7:50 am
The Superintendent made the right call based on information given him. Sometimes things don't go as planned. Give the guy a break, we all went to work that day without worrying about the roads. The next best way to handle this is to have school, and make the parents bring the kids to school.
Tell It Like It Is · January 10, 2014 at 4:50 pm
Hold on here for just minute.

In thinking about this rationally, many of the school buses have a driver deployable snow/ice chain device. Toggle switch operated at the driver's finger tips.

According to this article of which I am unsure of the publication date, these are 2k per vehicle. That sounds a bit light for my knowledge of heavy truck optional equipment but anyway.

We the tax payers of the county have paid and are paying thousands per bus for this option so they can operate in unfavorable road conditions.

a) Did this bus have that option?

b) If so why was this device not in use?

c) If we are not going to train the driver when and how to use them and instead close school every time we get the slightest bit of cold, possible freezing rain or snow then who in county school board equipment procurement is responsible for rationalizing said purchases and has been buying this "optional equipment"?

d)Since we are obviously unwilling to train drivers how and when to use the device how much money have we and are we wasting on this "optional equipment"?

Ponder that one folks and yes as responsible citizens and taxpayers you should be asking the your county school board what the hell and why we are spending $$$$ needlessly on equipment we are seemingly unwilling or untrained?

Are we just spending it so we can get more next year?

See ya'll at the next school board meeting!
That sounds like BS to me.
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