School bus drivers monitor slippery streets

Lawton_It seems like it should be obvious to determine when schools should be closed because of bad weather.  But, sometimes parents and students may wonder why school is closed when the road seems clear.  It all comes down to safety.

Ice is a big problem for school bus drivers, and treacherous winds can cause more driving difficulty.  While city crews always tackle main intersections, when it comes to side roads and residential streets, there may still be a problem with icy conditions.

With forecasters predicting a winter storm, children's safety is the school district's main concern.  Last year proved to be particularly perilous for drivers, and while kids may have enjoyed the day off to play in the snow, it was not so fun for drivers.  Road conditions were so dangerous that Lawton schools closed down for six days.

Deputy Superintendent Dr. Linda Dzialo says last year was the first time students had ever missed six days of school over bad weather.  She says the decision to cancel classes isn't made lightly, and they actually send drivers out on the roads to see for themselves whether they should risk it.

"We have four drivers that are up at 3 a.m.," says Dzialo.  "By 4 a.m. they are driving the four quads of the city - north, south, east, and west.  They'll drive through driveways in residential areas as well as main thoroughfares."

Lawton Public Schools Director of Transportation John Cargill is one of the drivers who tests road conditions while many of us are still asleep.  It can be very stressful for bus drivers on their routes.  Cargill says several neighborhoods in Lawton have windy, curved roads and hills that make it impossible to stop on ice.  "This is a street when it's icy makes heart rate pick up," he said.

Whatever drivers see, they report to the administration so they can have a decision made by 5:30 a.m. to catch parents and kids before they head off to school.  One problem Lawton schools have that smaller districts don't is when the weather gets worse as the day progresses.  Schools can't close mid way through - there are far too many kids to monitor.  "That is not possible with a school district with almost 17,000 students and such a wide variety of family situations," says Dzialo.  "If we let school out early many of our children would be going home to empty homes and not even have a key to get in."

If school is cancelled, so are all extra curricular activities for the day.  Although Lawton Public Schools say they don't always predict the weather conditions correctly, they say it's better to be cautious rather than put someone's safety in jeopardy.

Tune in to 7News or check out for weather updates and closings.