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Published in Print: May 4, 2005, as Fla. District’s Safety Drive Targets Bus Stops

Fla. District’s Safety Drive Targets Bus Stops

Pinellas County Officials React After Students Hurt, Killed in Busy Traffic

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The Pinellas County, Fla., school district has relocated hundreds of bus stops and launched a safety campaign after the deaths of two students in accidents near school bus stops.

Transportation officials have moved 500 to 600 of the district’s 15,000 bus stops to safer locations, said Superintendent Clayton M. Wilcox. Some stops had violated a school board guideline recommending that students not cross four-lane roads on their way to school.

“Parents are still telling us, in spite of our best efforts, that kids are still in unsafe environments,” Mr. Wilcox said last week.

The superintendent and board members are continuing to wrestle with busing policies in the 113,000-student district, where some parents have said a district school choice plan to foster integration complicates bus routes and forces students to travel greater distances from their homes to get to their stops.

The magnet program also requires students from various neighborhoods to cross major roads to congregate at bus stops. In addition, as schools fail to meet their annual goals for academic progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Superintendent Wilcox noted, “there’s choice involved at that level as well.”

Meanwhile, the district announced its Safety First campaign last month to try to cultivate awareness of pedestrian, car, and bicycle safety among children and adults.

“People are crossing very heavily traveled thoroughfares. We are the most densely populated county in Florida,” said Tom A. Gavin, the chief of school police, who has worked with police in the St. Petersburg area to identify spots where school buses may need traffic enforcement, such as on streets where cars repeatedly pass school buses or do not slow down in school zones.

The campaign aims to build awareness of safety through the curriculum and partnerships with local government agencies. School administrators, PTA members, police, and local elected officials have held a series of public forums to discuss ways to improve safety for students as they travel to and from school.

The three Pinellas County students who were hit by cars in the past six months were attempting to cross high-traffic roads.

Transportation Review

A 6-year-old kindergartner was struck by a car on April 12 while crossing a four-lane road. The boy had arrived at Fairmount Park Elementary School 10 minutes late, got off the bus, and went to the cafeteria to eat breakfast. For unknown reasons, he left the school and tried to cross the street. He was in critical condition at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg last week.

In February, Brooke Ingoldsby, 8, was killed by a sport-utility vehicle when she tried to cross Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street in St. Petersburg after a district bus driver dropped her off on the wrong side of the road, officials said. The bus driver later resigned, according to Ron F. Stone, a spokesman for the district.

Last October, a pickup truck struck and killed Rebecca McKinney, 16, when she tried to cross the six-lane Mullenbooth Road at her bus stop after her bus driver dropped her off.

In response to the incidents, the district has conducted an internal review and reorganization of its transportation department.

Nancy Bostock, the president of the school board, said the district will spend $600,000 to revamp the department. The district has cut high-level administrative positions and is hiring safety specialists and people to help drivers with route changes and problems that may arise in their day-to-day driving.

More money will be spent for a new transportation call center for parents. In addition, the district plans to link school buses to a global-positioning system to better monitor their locations, Mr. Wilcox said.

In a series of community meetings last month, the location of bus stops was a major topic of discussion, said Mr. Stone, the district spokesman.

To keep students safe at bus stops, he said, people have suggested that parent volunteers walk with children to their stops, designate a neighbor’s house as a “safe house” for students who need help, or have the city post brightly colored signs to designate bus stops.

“We’ll take all of those ideas and see if there is something we can pursue,” Mr. Stone said.

Overall, school buses are a safe form of transportation, said Ted J. Pafundi, the district’s director of risk management and insurance and the chairman of its safety and security council, which is coordinating the Safety First campaign.

“But at the end of the day,” he said, “the loss of one student’s life is one too many.”

The Safety First campaign has aired two public-service announcements on television channels run by the school district and local government. The ads remind students to look both ways before crossing a street and tell drivers to slow down in school zones.

Teachers also will reinforce safety awareness with interactive CDs and health and driver-education materials.

The school board expects to be sued by the families of the two students who were killed, said John Bowen, the school board’s lawyer.

PHOTO: Superintendent Clayton M. Wilcox watches a video from a security camera showing a boy who left an elementary school on April 12 and was struck by a car.
—Kinfay Moroti/St. Petersburg Times

Vol. 24, Issue 34, Pages 3,14

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