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Schools Expected To Reopen Today But Many Buses Will Be Late Picking Up Students So Their Drivers Can Avoid Icy Roadways

Mon., Nov. 25, 1996

After losing three days to the region’s worst natural disaster since Mount St. Helens blew up, Spokane County schools will be back in business today.

All schools are warm, lighted and ready for students, district officials said.

Parents are advised to listen to morning radio reports, but officials said Sunday only a surprise blizzard would alter the planned reopening.

Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls school superintendents said they expect classes to be in session today but won’t make that call until early this morning.

School is starting at the regular time, but many districts are delaying buses, allowing the morning sun to soften ice-glazed roads.

Spokane elementary students and all students in the East Valley, West Valley and Central Valley districts will be picked up an hour late.

Middle school and high school students in Spokane will be picked up half an hour late.

Parents concerned about their children’s safety getting to and from school can keep them home today. Absent students will be excused, said District 81 Superintendent Gary Livingston.

Bus drivers scouted routes Sunday afternoon, hunting for trouble spots that could slow them today. Other than a few hanging branches, routes were clear, said Livingston.

After deciding to reopen schools, Spokane County school administrators turned their attention to how to handle last week’s three lost days.

One option is to petition the state superintendent of public instruction’s office to waive the lost days.

Getting exemptions to the state law requiring a 180-day school year is difficult. The last one granted to local schools came after the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.

Schools in federal disaster areas are automatically eligible. Ice-ravaged Spokane County, however, has only been declared a state disaster area.

“I think it would be reasonable to not make it up,” West Valley Superintendent Dave Smith said of the lost days. “But if I was a betting man, I’d say it wouldn’t go through.”

Other make-up options include lengthening the school day and shortening spring or summer vacations.

Livingston said District 81 will make its decision later this winter, after any other emergency closures.

Preparing schools for kids and employees after three dark, cold days required janitors, bus drivers, custodians and administrators to scramble Sunday.

Administrators in fleece jackets and hiking boots pounded the phones in a half-lighted administrative office.

Janitors at Logan, Bemiss, Pratt and Wilson elementary schools, where the power had only just returned, cranked up the heat and swept floors.

At most county schools, cooks peered into huge refrigerators, looking for spoiled milk and rotten food.

“Our maintenance and custodial people have done everything above and beyond the call of duty,” said Central Valley District spokesman Skip Bonucelli, echoing other school officials.

“We have a lot of cleanup to do,” said Mead Superintendent Bill Mester, who went sledding Sunday to escape his powerless Green Bluff home.

Officials still need to total the cleanup cost, which includes overtime for maintenance workers. Early estimates put the tab at more than $50,000 in Spokane County.

Livingston said the Spokane district would try to get money from the state emergency office to help pay the bill.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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