The schools are closed today because the buses' biodiesel fuels aren't cooperating with the cold weather.
All schools in the Bloomington School District will be closed today after state-required biodiesel fuel clogged in school buses Thursday morning and left dozens of students stranded in frigid weather, the district said late Thursday.
Rick Kaufman, the district's spokesman, said elements in the biodiesel fuel that turn into a gel-like substance at temperatures below 10 degrees clogged about a dozen district buses Thursday morning. Some buses weren't able to operate at all and others experienced problems while picking up students, he said.
"We had students at bus stops longer than we think is acceptable, and that's too dangerous in these types of temperatures," Kaufman said.
About 50 of the district's 10,000 students were affected. Some waited at bus stops for up to 30 minutes; others were stuck on stalled buses.
Backup buses were sent out, but four of the district's 10 backup buses were also affected, Kaufman said.
Several students had to go to the nurse's office to warm up once they reached school and some returned home instead of waiting for buses that never came or were late, but there were no reports of students who required medical attention, he said. Transportation staffers were dispatched to make sure that there weren't any students left at bus stops.
The decision to close school today came after district officials consulted with several neighboring districts that were experiencing similar problems. Bloomington staffers tried to get a waiver to bypass the state requirement and use pure diesel fuel, but they weren't able to do so in enough time, Kaufman said. They also decided against scheduling a two-hour delay because the temperatures weren't expected to rise enough that the problem would be eliminated.
In 2005, a new requirement went into effect that all diesel fuel sold in Minnesota had to contain 2 percent biodiesel. Kaufman said that some school districts keep their buses in temperature-controlled garages, and that the First Student bus service, which contracts with several metro-area school districts, keeps its buses in garages or idles them through the night.
Today's closing will include community education programs such as Early Childhood, Kids Safari and Adult Basic Education. But high school athletic events will go on as scheduled, and all staff members are required to report to work.
Lora Pabst • 612-673-4628