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Schools worry about snowy sidewalks

Schools worry about snowy sidewalks

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NORMAL — Twin City school officials are urging people to clear sidewalks for students walking to class or the bus stop, but state and local laws compelling residents to do so vary.

While Bloomington property owners and tenants are required by ordinance to clear sidewalks of snow by 10 a.m., there is no such requirement for Normal property owners outside of its uptown business district.

That means McLean County Unit 5 school district must rely on residents to be good neighbors and civic-minded enough to shovel sidewalks to ensure the safety of students.

"We have heard from parents that not all sidewalks are shoveled, which can make it problematic for students walking to school and getting to the bus stops," Unit 5 Superintendent Gary Niehaus said Monday. "Unit 5 is 222 square miles so we have no way of knowing a number of sidewalks not shoveled."

Bloomington District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly said that while he hasn't received any calls from parents concerned about sidewalks that have not been shoveled, he suspects his building principals have.

"It's been hit and miss," Reilly said Monday about sidewalk conditions he has seen in his district. "In most cases people have done a very good job clearing the sidewalks, so I think we're getting our message out there."

With this winter's large volume of snowl, the school superintendents have been reminding people, whenever they can, to shovel their sidewalks.

"We also hope that friends and neighbors will be able to help those who are unable to shovel," Niehaus added.

Property owners and occupants of buildings in Normal's Uptown are required by ordinance to remove snow from sidewalks within four hours after the fall of snow, sleet or freezing rain has stopped or by 10 a.m. the next day, Monday through Saturday. 

There is no snow removal ordinance for other parts of Normal and Illinois law does not impose a legal duty to remove snow and ice, said Steven Mahrt, corporation counsel for the town of Normal.

Illinois law follows the natural accumulation rule — whatever falls naturally may remain until nature takes it away, Mahrt said.

The  person who scoops the snow, however, could be liable for any injury caused by an unreasonable removal manner or creation of an "unnatural" accumulation, Mahrt said. 

To encourage property owners to scoop snow from adjoining sidewalks, Illinois passed the Snow and Removal Act, Mahrt added. 

"This act gives some protection to the adjacent property owner, imposing liability only for willful and wanton misconduct  ... which means a course of action which shows an actual or deliberate intention to cause harm or which, if not intentional, shows an utter indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others on their property," Mahrt said.

Essentially, that means the homeowner has some immunity and is liable only for willful or wanton conduct, and "the volunteer shoveling in front of your house is liable for general negligence," Mahrt said.

Normal City Manager Mark Peterson said despite the harsh winter he's only heard from resident suggesting the municipality consider adopting a snow removal ordinance. 

"I think that's because most sidewalks have been cleared," he said. "I don't think it's perfect. There are a few sections of sidewalk that haven't."

That type of ordinance is hard to enforce and "to do it right would take a large cadre of inspectors," Peterson added.

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