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Those 600 Irvine Middle-Schoolers Who Were Snowbound In The Mountains Have Made It Home

Photo of two middle school-aged boys in winterwear smiling and making snow angels.
Joshie Fearn (l) and his friend Jack Gorzycki (r) got extra days in the snow at the Pali Institute science camp.
(Courtesy Katie Fearn)
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Hundreds of Irvine middle-schoolers have returned home after blizzard conditions stranded them for several days in the San Bernardino Mountains.

More than 600 kids from four different schools were bused back to the city Monday night while being escorted down the mountains by California Highway Patrol officers, according to Irvine Unified School District spokesperson Annie Brown.

“Our transportation and district teams worked around the clock to leverage relationships and resources to ensure we had 20 buses and drivers available to safely bring students home,” Brown said in an email.

The students had spent a total of seven days in the mountains. They had left Monday, Feb. 20 for what was supposed to be a school week, much of it spent outdoors. They were split between two camps, the Pali Institute in Running Springs and Thousand Pines in Crestline.

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Their stay extended to seven nights after last Thursday's snowstorm made mountain roads impassable.

The district said it had been advised by CHP and first-responder agencies that the safest thing was to keep the students at the camps and off the roads.

Some parents questioned why the school district had not cut the school trip short or found a way to get the students back home earlier. There were fears children would run out of medication and struggle with homesickness.

Katie Fearn, the mother of 12-year-old twins Emi and Joshie at Stone Creek Elementary School, said her children didn’t mind the extra days away from home, having attended away camp for several years.

The first email from the district didn’t come until Sunday, but Fearn said her school principal had been doing a good job regularly updating families before and after the storm struck, assuring them the students were doing well.

Teachers facilitated Zoom calls on Friday; during her family's call, Fearn said her kids told her they were having fun dancing and playing ball.

“The only part for me that was nerve-wracking was when they were coming down the mountain,” said Fearn, who had paid $500 per child for them to attend the camp at the Pali Institute.

Fearn’s daughter Emi said most students seemed to enjoy themselves in the snow.

“If any kids were homesick, it wouldn't have been the whole time,” she said. “It was just, like, the kids who haven't really been away from their parents a lot.”

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Emi and her brother were home Tuesday, taking advantage of a district-sanctioned day off from school.

The district said because the focus had been on ferrying the students home, they only traveled with essentials. The rest of their belongings were left at camp and will be delivered later.

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