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Bus Evacuations Begin For 600 Irvine Middle Schoolers Trapped In The Snowy Mountains

Deep snow covers the ground and pine trees with low lying clouds below the mountain peaks
A view of conditions in the San Bernardino Mountains on Sunday near Big Bear.
(Courtesy ALERT/CalFire)
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More than 600 Irvine middle-schoolers who’ve been stranded in the mountains since a blizzard struck last week are being bused home Monday, according to school officials, who expect all the kids to be home by Monday night.

The students from four Irvine Unified School District schools have been in the San Bernardino Mountains for a week, split between two outdoor camps. The plan had been for them to return home on Friday but then the snowstorm hit Thursday.

The district attributed the delays in getting the children home to the inclement weather and strained resources at the California Highway Patrol, which is escorting the buses driven down the mountain.

“As of now, the CHP has told us that the snow is negligible in that area, and they're confident that we can get all of our students home today — but that's barring any unforeseen circumstances,” said district spokesperson Annie Brown.

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Brown said that ahead of the storm the district had considered bringing the students home early but decided to keep them at the camps for their safety after consulting with the highway patrol and first responder agencies.

Questions about the trip's timing

The stranding of the students created panic among some families, who registered their concerns on social media and questioned why the district went ahead with overnight camp stays when weather reports warned of a blizzard.

Some worried their children lacked sufficient supplies, such as medication and period products.

One source in the district said parents had pleaded for a town hall-style Zoom meeting over the weekend but were ignored.

Where to find the latest information

“There's a lack of transparency in the whole process that has left the community of parents stressed out and concerned about what exactly is going on,” the source said.

Brown, the district spokesperson, said the district has heard the concerns. “We definitely understand that this has not been an easy situation for our families, and we're going to continue working around the clock until every child is home,” she said.

Superintendent Terry Walker said in an email sent to parents Monday afternoon that the district would make sure "students with medical issues are transported first."  

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Brown said other parents have been “happy” with how the district has handled the situation.

“We've had some parents report, ‘My child's loving it and they're getting extra snow days,’” Brown said.  She said more than 20 district teachers and staff have been overseeing the students at the camps, including a principal and assistant principal.

Homeward bound

By Monday afternoon, buses had arrived to pick up the 100-plus Turtle Rock Elementary students who’ve been staying at Thousand Pines in Crestline.

Brown said there were delays in getting buses to the other camp at the Pali Institute in Running Springs, where the remainder of the students from Cadence Park, Oak Creek, and Stone Creek schools are located.

In his email to parents Monday afternoon, the superintendent explained that CHP resources were “being strained while they responded to emergencies in the area and escorted buses from other school districts.”

Parents upset about the Irvine district’s response have pointed to how Saddleback Valley Unified evacuated dozens of students and adults from the San Bernardino Mountains on Friday.

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Updated February 27, 2023 at 6:46 PM PST
This story was updated with school officials saying they prioritized students with medical needs.
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