March 5, 2019 by Carol Britton Meyer
Following Monday's storm and a snow day for Hingham Public Schools students, it was back to the books today, Tuesday.
During snowstorms DPW crews first clear the roads for safe vehicular access. The sidewalks come next, with priority on the areas surrounding Hingham's six schools.
A Foster School parent told the Hingham Anchor her concerns and those she had heard from other parents that the sidewalks around the school were not cleared until an hour or so after school started and that small children were seen walking in the street during rush hour to get to school. A parent provided photos to the Anchor.
There were also concerns that some Middle School and High School students were also seen walking in the street and that parents assumed the sidewalks would be cleared if school was in session.
In a telephone conversation, HPS Director of Business and Support Services John Ferris said, "Safety comes first," especially when it comes to the students, teachers, and staff. That said, "We try to be sure conditions are as safe as possible, but we can't shut down school because the sidewalks aren't plowed."
The day of a storm and the day following are "tough," he said. "The DPW clears the sidewalks as soon as the roads are done, with an emphasis on the schools," Ferris confirmed. "Foster School is a big walking community. If the sidewalks aren't clear, parents can either drive their children to school or escort them there, especially the younger kids [to ensure their safety]. It's the parents' choice to send their kids to school after a storm or not."
Ferris also explained that HPS has a policy that if a school bus driver sees a student of any age walking in the street, no matter what the bus route, the driver is expected to stop and offer him or her a ride if seats are available.
"Every storm is different, but the protocol is the same -- we want to get the students, teachers, and staff back to school safely," he said.
DPW Highway Supervisor Michael Mullen told the Anchor this morning (Tuesday) that following his crew working 36 hours straight during and following the recent storm -- which was tiring to say the least -- nighttime had arrived. "We then had to make a decision [early Tuesday] whether or not to clear the sidewalks when it was dark, which is dangerous," he said. "Is it worth taking the risk of someone getting hurt or should we start doing the sidewalks at daybreak was the question."
Today, Tuesday, as soon as daylight hit at 5 a.m. DPW crews were clearing the sidewalks around the schools with the town's three sidewalk plows/blowers. "We don't want kids walking in the street," Mullen said. "Sidewalk plowing was delayed at Foster because the snowblower hit a rock going down Thaxter Street and had to be repaired. It was back on the road as soon as it was fixed."
Mullen predicted that the sidewalks around the schools would be cleared by noontime Tuesday, and about 80 percent of all the town's sidewalks by Tuesday night. "Hingham got an average of 16 inches of snow," he said.
It's all about how and when the storm hits, according to Mullen. "This is the third time in six days that our crews worked throughout the night. We do the best we can -- we only have one shift."
Hersey Street resident Ellen Rathke, the parent of both a Foster and a Hingham High student, drove her older daughter -- who usually walks to school -- to and from there Tuesday to avoid her having to navigate the tricky Cedar/Main/Central Street intersection following the storm. "The sidewalk from Central Street to the High School was only plowed on one side of the street," she said. "It just wasn't safe for her to walk. With drivers flying down Hersey Street there was no way she would have been seen, even wearing a red jacket. Overall, though, I think the town does a great job plowing, and I usually don't have any complaints about the condition of the sidewalks or the roads." Rathke's other daughter takes the bus to Foster.
She suggested that the town extend the sidewalk-clearing priority to include the distance from students' homes that bus service isn't available. (Elementary students can catch a bus if they live more than a mile from the school, and secondary students, two miles). "Calling off school due to sidewalks that haven't been cleared yet just puts a burden on the kids at the end of the school year, when they have to make up the days," she said.
Rathke wondered if Hingham has a regulation requiring homeowners to clear the sidewalks in front of their houses. The answer is no, but some do it anyway. "I and some of the other residents already do that on my street," she said.