News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 9, 2014

ARCTIC BLAST 2014: Road conditions keep schools closed again

Superintendent personally assesses safety conditions

TERRE HAUTE — As he drove through slushy, snow-filled streets Thursday toward Fuqua Elementary School, Vigo County School Corp. Superintendent Danny Tanoos kept a close eye on piles of snow impeding bus stops and sidewalks.

Earlier in the day, the superintendent drove Bolton Road north of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and Concannon Avenue and Gannon Road near West Terre Haute. While driving that route, Tanoos was forced to back up, after a county highway snow plow became lodged. He also drove near Hoosier Prairie Elementary in southern Vigo County.

It was all part of his effort to get firsthand information before making a decision to cancel classes today for the Vigo County schools. In addition to school, all school-related activities, including sports, are canceled for today. Tanoos said he will make a determination later today on activities scheduled for Saturday.

The superintendent said elementary students must walk to school if they live within a mile of their school, while middle and high school students must walk within 11⁄2 mile of a school. Students outside that radius are transported via school bus.

“To me, we really have to think about those kids as much as everyone talks about the county roads,” Tanoos said. “We have to worry about [school] bus stops in the city, county roads and walkers. Then also student drivers.

“The deciding factor was we have to think about kids trudging through the snow to school from their homes, bus stops and sidewalks not being cleared. The sheriff has been on the radio with us and he asked all the deputies to give an account of the roads in the county. They used the word ‘deplorable’ in all parts of the county,” Tanoos said.

“When you talk about deplorable roads and have the sheriff’s department advising you against putting buses on roads and students walking and think about the kids driving, to me, it pretty much comes down to that I’m not going to put the students and staff at risk over having to make up a day of school or not. It comes down to safety,” Tanoos said.

The Indiana State Department of Education on Wednesday said schools will have to make up days missed because of weather other than Monday and Tuesday. Tanoos said he plans to seek a waiver for all five days the school corporation was closed this week.

Tanoos said county commissioners, the county sheriff and even officials with Duke Energy advised him about the conditions of roads.

“So, when that many entities are telling you it is bad, it is not safe, why would I be the one to say let’s be the renegade and have school and put kids and staff at risk?” the superintendent asked.

Tanoos said the school corporation has three days built into its school schedule for snow days. The corporation previously used a day before Dec. 25. With Wednesday, Thursday and today out, that puts the corporation at four days out of school.

Tanoos said the corporation, if the state does not approve his waiver request, will make up the days at the end of the school year. Tanoos said graduation dates would remain intact and not be affected “at this point.”

Safety for students wasn’t the only thing Tanoos did on this route. While driving back to his downtown Terre Haute office along Seventh Street, Tanoos spotted a driver in need of assistance at a parallel street. Tanoos stopped his sports utility vehicle, which is equipped with flashing lights, as Tanoos is also a special deputy for the county sheriff’s department.

Both he and Jeff Thompson, Terre Haute South Vigo High School swim coach and teacher, assisted the driver by pushing the car from the rear, instructing the driver to keep the front wheels straight, helping the driver gain traction once it reached Seventh Street, just 15 feet away.

Thompson rode along with Tanoos to gain experience at how the superintendent reached a decision to cancel classes. It is part of work that Thompson is undertaking as he seeks a state administrative license.

“It’s the best way to learn. Go along and see for myself,” Thompson said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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