When we first moved to Minnesota, the Mathemagician was 13 years old and not happy about having to start all over again in a new school system. We tried cheering him up by telling him that schools close on heavy snow days, but as it turned out, the Mathemagician got one day off from school for weather the entire time he attended school in Minnesota. The state does too good of a job in clearing roads and getting kids on the bus to let it interfere with their education.
Last Friday, kids got another rare day off due to the weather. Actually, the weather was just the indirect cause. The real problem? Biodiesel fuel:
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.
The Russians discovered the problem with diesel fuel during World War II. In cold weather, the fuel in the tanks solidified, making them both useless and defenseless. The Americans stuck with gasoline, which had bigger safety problems but proved reliable for combat.
Apparently, biodiesel makes the problem worse. The school district tried getting a waiver from the state to allow their buses to use regular diesel fuel, to no avail. Instead, buses stalled throughout the district and across the state. Children had to be treated for hypothermia by school nurses after either waiting for buses that arrived far too late in -20F weather or on buses that stalled and whose heaters don’t function without running engines.
This is an absurd requirement for school buses in a state that sees these kinds of low temperatures every year. If the fuel cannot be used in -20F weather, then we should be using fuel that works when it gets that cold. Having school children stand or sit in that kind of weather for any extended period of time is dangerous. To think that using a politically-correct form of fuel is more important than their safety or education demonstrates an obtuseness that simply boggles the mind.
Update: I misremembered the tanks issue; according to several e-mailers, it was the Russians that had the problems with diesel, not the Germans, who did use gasoline.