, Newburyport, MA

February 12, 2013

Trudging back to class

Kerble weathers complaints as school resumes

By Lynne Hendricks

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Despite criticism from some parents, Superintendent Marc Kerble stood confident yesterday in his decision to reopen city schools yesterday, two days after the region was blanketed by 2 feet of snow.

While Amesbury and Triton Regional school districts joined others throughout the region in calling off school yesterday, Newburyport as well Pentucket Regional schools resumed classes.

Despite roads being lined with steep banks of plowed snow and students being challenged by uncleared sections of sidewalks as they walked to school, Kerble called the decision to proceed with classes yesterday the right one.

“We have inclement weather,” he said. “We’ve had worse weather in the past. We have to have school or else we’ll be going into July.”

Following the near-record amount of snow that fell in Newburyport and across the commonwealth Friday and Saturday, Kerble consulted with Mayor Donna Holaday, the city’s director Department of Public Services and the school district’s director of facilities before deciding whether to reopen schools yesterday. Students had already enjoyed a snow day on Friday in advance of the storm’s arrival.

After driving through the city Sunday, Kerble said he felt Newburyport schools were ready to open.

“Student safety is of utmost importance, but I was in the district yesterday afternoon,” Kerble said. “I drove to all the schools and took all the back roads. I looked to see if students could make it to our schools from a certain distance. To me, looking at things yesterday, I was confident that students would be able to ride to school safely.”

Kerble said his office received about a half-dozen calls and an equal number of emails from parents upset with the decision and expressing concern for children having to walk in the street to get around the piles of unplowed snow along their route.

Parents also took to Facebook to register complaints, saying they feared roads were not wide enough to accommodate buses and incoming traffic, that sidewalks on High and Low streets hadn’t been adequately cleared by residents and that poorly plowed areas of the South End of the city made passage in the downtown and surrounding areas dangerous for kids.

“I don’t want to go to school any later than June, but safety first,” parent Jennifer Grinnings posted on a Facebook thread Sunday complaining about the reopening. Others agreed with Grinnings, citing sections of High Street where sidewalks remain covered in snow.

“There are a lot of sidewalks not cleared, and kids will walk in the streets rather than trudge through a foot of snow,” Patty DiTullio posted.

While Kerble acknowledged parents’ concerns, he said he was assured on Sunday by the Department of Public Services that crews would be out all night clearing areas around the schools and shoveling snow from atop the Bresnahan and Nock Middle school roofs.

By yesterday morning, most of that work had been done, he said, and he’s been told any remaining untreated areas close to the schools would be addressed ahead of the school day today.

However, Kerble said the South End — particularly around the Brown School, which requires strict drop-off procedures to ensure neighbors’ access to their driveways and homes — remains a difficult situation. He urged parents to work cooperatively with staff to follow the drop-off procedures and to use caution.

He said the city was planning to do more work last night on clearing the area around the Brown, and praised the DPS, school custodians and teachers on their efforts assisting students as they arrive to school.

“The South End is always tight,” Kerble said. “I appreciate the work that’s done there by the community and parents — they shovel out. But that school is tight no matter what. I appreciate families that have taken the time and been cooperative in getting kids to school.”

Kerble also thanked residents as a whole who have done the work of shoveling out the sidewalks in front of their homes, as is their responsibility per city ordinance, and urged others to do so for the safety of students who use them daily on their walks to school.

To those who registered complaints either by phone, email or on Facebook about Newburyport’s history of resistance to snow days, Kerble good-naturedly reiterated that residents of the city are accustomed to bad weather.

And for parents who remain concerned about sending their children to school due to weather conditions or travel complications, Kerble encouraged them to use their best judgment.

“My advice to parents is if you’re really worried about the weather, use good judgment and either come in later in the morning or keep your child at home,” he said.