ROXBURY, NJ – The Roxbury school district’s last-minute decision to cancel many afternoon buses on Sept. 20 was based on information from the police department and was done with “the best interest” of the children in mind, said Roxbury School Board President Leo Coakley today.

He said the police notified the district, late in the day, about an unanticipated problem with asphalt milling equipment involved in paving Landing Road. The contractor's problem forced the complete closure of the road shortly before school buses were scheduled to roll, Coakley said.

“We, the general public, were told the road would be closed northbound but there’d be a detour around Shippenport Road,” Coakley said. “My understanding is something went wrong with the contractor and they wound up closing everything. There seemed to be a little confusion. Our people were told it was totally closed down - both Landing Road and the bypass.”

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Coakley said a police officer on the scene contacted the school district as soon as the situation developed.

“The administration could have, perhaps, done alternate routes,” Coakley said. “But that probably would have caused even more confusion. They figured this was the best for the safety of kids. The staff was tremendous. They stayed with the kids and it all got worked out, with some inconvenience, of course.”

Best for the Kids

Most parents were supportive and tolerant, Coakley said. He stressed that the school administrators were forced to make a quick, and difficult decision once the call came from the police. 

 “We trust their judgment throughout the year for so many things,” he said. “This is a situation where they had to make a call. We should trust they have the best interest of the kids and the safety of the kids in mind.”

The district sent out a “Honeywell” alert shortly before 2 p.m. that day, advising parents that traffic problems caused by the paving project forced it to cancel all buses from Nixon School and 21 buses from other Roxbury schools.

The district blamed the township, asserting it “did not communicate the severity of the traffic and paving concerns during dismissal time.” However, it was the county, not the township, that was doing the road work, since Landing Road is a county road.

County Questions Bus Decision

“We do not understand why the buses were canceled,” said Morris County Government Communications Director Larry Ragonese in an email today. “The county does road projects in all 39 towns that require alternating traffic or detours. That we know of, this has not caused any district to previously cancel busing.”

Ragonese said the county took the steps necessary – before beginning the paving job – to avoid traffic issues. “Prior to undertaking resurfacing projects, the county always coordinates with and informs the local police and other local officials,” he said. “In this instance, the informational and coordination meeting was held in August, and municipal officials were in the loop on the plans.”

Minutes of that meeting show that, while nobody from the Roxbury School District was at the coordination meeting, representatives from the Roxbury Police Department and Roxbury Engineering Department were in attendance.    

Ragonese said the county usually requests contractors to keep one lane of traffic open during paving projects. “However, that determination is deferred to the respective police department, which handles traffic control and best knows their specific needs,” he said. “They usually also coordinate traffic issues with the schools.”  

Although Ragonese said the county always tries to “allow priority for busses and emergency services thru the work zones,” those decisions are left up to the municipality.

A person answering the phone today at the Roxbury Schools Transportation Department said the department had no comment. Roxbury Schools Superintendent Loretta Radulic was unavailable for comment.

Messages left with school district communications director Ann Rhodes and with Roxbury Police communications director Jennifer Dillard were not immediately returned.

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