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Pinellas superintendent's committee releases suggestions for bus safety

For two months, teachers, principals, traffic workers and drivers met to tackle a controversial issue in Pinellas County:

Students boarding school buses on busy roads.

The 21-member advisory group developed more than a dozen recommendations for superintendent Julie Janssen to consider that include opening the dialogue about arterial busing, a system of bus stops along high-traffic roads. The school district released the list of recommendations Thursday.

"Good ideas," said Janssen, who will bring the recommendations to the School Board at a workshop Tuesday.

Janssen said she's also throwing in a recommendation of her own: that the district hire a team of transportation experts from the University of South Florida to evaluate the safety of every arterial stop. District officials are talking with the team about how much the review will cost and when it can start.

"I always want the best minds together to get the best solution," Janssen said.

The superintendent formed the task force after 17-year-old Pinellas Park High student Nora Hernandez-Huapilla died Dec. 18 after she ran into the path of an oncoming car on 66th Street, crossing six busy lanes in the dark to catch her morning bus.

The district increased the number of arterial stops this school year so high school students could attend schools outside of regular zones. Nora was zoned to attend Dixie Hollins High, but chose Pinellas Park. The advisory group said that maintaining diversity and school choice is important.

Here are other recommendations from the group, which met three times in January and February:

• Educate students and parents about arterial bus safety rules via the code of conduct, the Internet, morning television announcements, district TV programs, brochures and handouts, orientations and open houses. Open a transportation department information booth at the countywide magnet school fair.

• Hold parent workshops on transportation safety and put safety lessons into the curriculum.

• Start an annual Safety Week with poster and essay contests.

• Make sure parents are represented on the county's school transportation and safety committee.

• Place bus stops in safe locations, taking into account the ages of the children riding, and work to minimize and consolidate stops.

• Work with the Florida Department of Transportation, public bus lines, traffic safety professionals and city governments to report problems and spread education.

• Use experts to periodically audit arterial bus stops, and push for stricter enforcement when drivers break the law while kids are getting on and off buses.

Times staff writer Ron Matus contributed to this report. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Pinellas superintendent's committee releases suggestions for bus safety 03/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 11, 2010 10:25pm]
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