Snarling snow forces some changes in West Seneca schools

Posted at 6:30 AM, Oct 05, 2017

Nearly a year after snow snarled the afternoon rush in West Seneca, stranding children on school buses and keeping them in school, many are wondering if a plan has been developed to deal with this kind of situation.  

Mention that 'January snow storm' to anyone in West Seneca and they know exactly what you're talking about.

As eight-year-old Izzy Bucki makes her way to the bus, she's met with a warm welcome from the driver.  She's an elementary school student at Allendale Elementary.

"Good morning guys," the bus driver says.  

It's the same bus driver, determined to get Izzy home from school during that storm.  It hit West Seneca at the height of dismissal.

"She barely even gave her enough time to get off the bus before she was heading to the next house ... like this bus driver had a mission to get these kids home," Jennifer Bucki said.  Jennifer is Izzy's mother.

After seeing so many children stuck on school buses, begging for help in some cases, Bucki said she would have preferred Allendale dismiss early, with administrators communicating more often.

"There were robots saying that some kids were stranded in school -- but not to worry because there were teachers there taking care of them.  They had the necessities to get them through the night if they needed to stay the night," Bucki said of the message.

Bucki said that did not provide any comfort.  "Why would that provide you comfort," she questioned.  "You've got kids stranded out on the road and in school.  I mean, yes, we trust our teachers to teach our kids and be in their hands every day but where are they sleeping?  Did they have enough clothes?  Are the generators up and running?"

With all of these questions, Bucki said there needed to be a plan in place to handle this kind of situation.  "I don't know that any school has a plan like that," she said.

Matthew Bystrak is the Interim Superintendent for the West Seneca Central School District.  He was not leading safety efforts last school year.  

Bystrak said administrators start drawing up formal plan for the year during the first week of October.  Still, he said he's had informal discussions about concerns from January's storm.

"I learned we have some pretty darn good people and a very supportive community," Bystrak said.  "I think one of the things we all kind of agreed on, we'd like to be able to communicate a little more frequently with the community in a situation like that."

Bystrak says, new this year, five additional phone lines have been added at the elementary schools to be in constant contact with parents in an emergency.

"We don't want parents just to get a 'ringing, ring ring ring.' We want someone to be able to pick up the phone and give  them a clear and consistant message," Bystrak said.

During the summer, GPS devices were installed in all 104 buses, providing real time information to district administrators.  This allows bus drivers more opportunity to take hold of a situation and assess the needs on board the bus.  The installation of these devices were a direct result of the January storm.

In schools, there is a supply of food with back up generators.  

Still, Bystrak insists kids were safe during the entire ordeal last winter.

"Just because the kids were safe doesn't mean it wasn't uncomfortable for some of our students, especially the ones on the bus.  I would never want for them go through that again," Bystrak said.

Izzy was happy to have made it home in all that snow.  She showed off some pictures in the yearbook.

The question is, could more be done on the state-level to make sure schools are ready for this type of situation.  State Senator Pat Gallivan says he will consider exploring the issue.