Many Wichita-area students returning to class Wednesday faced slick parking lots and school drop-off lanes as districts struggled to clear ice following a winter storm.
“Cars were sliding around, wheels were spinning,” said Chris Batcheller, the father of two Andover students. “It just wasn’t a safe situation.”
Winter weather forced most districts around Wichita to cancel classes Tuesday as freezing rain and ice covered roadways. Wichita students were off Tuesday for a teacher in-service day.
Schools were back in session across the region Wednesday, but district officials said crews were having a difficult time removing snow and ice.
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“The way this particular weather event happened – with the freezing rain and sleet kind of melting together – our maintenance crews worked all day long trying to scrape that stuff off the lots and were not getting anywhere,” said Russell Miller, spokesman for the Andover district.
Miller said crews eventually gave up trying to plow the ice and contracted to have parking lots salted. But without sunlight and the friction of traffic to help break up the ice, most school properties were still slick Wednesday morning.
“We did the best we could,” he said. “With this type of event, it’s just very difficult to remove this material until it warms up.”
Batcheller, whose children attend Meadowlark Elementary School and Andover Central Middle School, said conditions were “not acceptable” Wednesday, and that the district should have done more to clear parking lots and walkways.
“What I observed clearly was not up to the standard we expect for our children and the safety that should be provided,” he said.
“You go into one of the classrooms and there’s 20 iPads there. … If they can provide iPads but can’t provide basic maintenance to the schools, then we clearly have an administration problem.”
Miller, assistant superintendent for human resources, said he had fielded several calls from parents concerned about dangerous school parking lots and walkways. He said he wasn’t aware of any serious accidents.
“We’re either in trouble because we cancel school, or we’re in trouble because we have school,” he said.
“Our goal is to have safe entry into the schools, and we did the best we could. We need a little help from Mother Nature, and we’ll hope for warmer days here coming soon.”
Officials for the Wichita district, the state’s largest with more than 90 schools, said snow removal teams go into action districtwide when snow levels reach 4 inches or more.
Otherwise, school custodians or grounds keepers “are responsible for spreading ice melt or removing snow on school sidewalks and entryways,” said spokeswoman Susan Arensman.
District crews remove ice at some sites, such as Levy Special Education Center, where many students have mobility issues, Arensman said.
Forecasters said another round of wintry precipitation was expected to move into the Wichita area beginning Wednesday evening. The National Weather Service warned that drivers on Thursday morning should use extra caution.
School officials said they would monitor the weather but had not decided about Thursday classes.