Should Pinellas students be able to ride in more than one school bus?
What's the bigger safety risk: Sending a child home to an empty house, or allowing him to potentially be forgotten by a bus driver? That debate divided the Pinellas school board last week when they tried to move on a proposal to allow students to go home on a different bus than they arrived in. Suffice it to say, they didn't get very far.
Michael Bessette, the associate superintendent for operational services, said that he gets about 50 requests each year from parents who want to sign their children up for "dual bus stops," or the option of traveling on different buses at different times. It's a concern among working parents, who would rather have their children go home to a grandparent's or friend's when the parent won't be home yet.
Unlimited bus routes per child presents an operational nightmare, but Bessette presented a more limited approach to the school board at a workshop last week. Students would have to already be eligible for bus service from their original residence, and the the second residence (yes, both would have to be residences) would also have to be within the same school zone. The school system wouldn't create any new bus stops or deploy any additional bus routes, meaning the option depended on available space. Most notably, students could only have one designated morning route and one afternoon route -- no switching mid-week or adding more addresses to the mix.
Bessette described the move as "cost-neutral," saying there would be very little work to get the word out. Rather, if parents approached the school system, Bessette would see what he could do. "I see this as actually being very limited in its application," he said.
But the school board couldn't reach a decision. Robin Wikle argued that the bus system was complicated enough, and mixing up the routes would put added strain on drivers.
"At the end of the day at a bus stop or a bus pickup in the morning, our administrators are (already) constantly on their walkie talkies, 'Where's Sherry, where's Johnny, he's supposed to be on this bus,"" Wikle said. "This is very, very confusing as it is, and I think this will add another level for our administration."
School board Chairwoman Carol Cook disagreed, maintaining that students should have the option of going to a relative's home when a parent is working. "I think a bus driver would know that every afternoon this child is going to be on their bus," Cook said.
School board member Peggy O'Shea agreed that bus drivers could stay on top of the change. "They get annoyed if you go near their child at that bus stop," she said. "They really know what's going on there."
The board agreed to discuss the bus stops with principals at their next meeting with the superintendent. The conversation will then be brought back to another workshop.