LEWISTON — Working to prevent what happened on Feb. 24 from happening again — when extreme cold hit “and the buses didn’t roll” — the Lewiston School Department has adopted new protocols.

They include:

* Robocalls to parents notifying them of expected extreme cold the next morning;

* More preventive maintenance on buses;

* More staff and better communication among the transportation office, schools and parents.

Plans call for every school bus to be equipped with GPS so its location can be tracked. Each bus will have GPS when the new transportation contract takes effect on July 1, 2016, said Butch Pratt, director of transportation for the Lewiston School Department.

Early on Feb. 24, when temperatures fell to 17 below zero, 14 of 42 buses didn’t start or broke down.

The cold was dangerous for children waiting outside for buses. Some parents reported they had no idea that buses weren’t coming or would be extremely late that morning, and some children were left in the cold. Parents asked why someone didn’t call them to let them know the buses weren’t coming.

Next year, the robocalls to parents will go out whenever the forecast is calling for temperatures to dip to zero degrees or below, “be it 10 below or 15 above with wind chills,” Pratt said.

The robocalls will let parents know severe weather is expected, that transportation problems are not expected, “but it could lead to some problems,” Pratt said. The robocall will remind parents to have a plan and keep an eye on their children waiting for buses to make sure they’re not in the cold.

When severe cold is expected, each school principal will identify at least one extra person to report for work in the main office as early as 6:15 a.m. to help with making phone calls and relaying messages.

Meanwhile, the buses will get extra attention during severe cold. More mechanics will be brought in, fuel will be treated and gas tanks topped off to prevent lines from freezing.

“We’re doing several things to hopefully prevent us ever experiencing another event like we had,” Pratt said.

To improve communication, Hudson Bus Lines, which provides bus service to Lewiston schools, and the School Department have created a formal who-to-contact list for bus drivers, the dispatcher, schools and the superintendent’s office.

“Communications seemed to be a big piece of what went wrong that day,” Pratt told the Lewiston School Committee on Monday night. “We’ve operated informally for years; it worked really well until it doesn’t work.”

Pratt said that if one or two buses are 15 minutes or more late, that information is to be shared among Hudson, the school and Pratt. If three or more buses are 15 minutes or more late, the superintendent’s office is also to be informed.

School Committee member Tom Shannon said he liked the protocols. “It’s a big step in the right direction. I thank Hudson and the School Department.”

One challenge that remains is how to contact parents when they haven’t provided up-to-date numbers. Too often, “the number is disconnected or not accepting incoming calls,” Pratt said.

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Previous coverage:

Parents, bus drivers upset with Feb. 24 school bus breakdowns

Frozen fuel lines idle 14 Lewiston school buses


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