Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

School bus route cuts pose little danger to Hernando County students

When Bobby Berner learned Thursday there would be no bus to take his three children to Westside Elementary School this year, he immediately turned to his 11-year-old daughter, Jessica.

"Looks like I'll be driving you to school every day," said Berner, 37, at his home in Spring Hill.

"Too many predators," he explained. "I don't let my kids walk anywhere."

I understand, of course. Sheriff Al Nienhuis, talking about his office's responsibility to train new crossing guards, called it a "zero-fail mission." If that's true for law enforcement — that slip-ups can't even be contemplated when it comes to kids' safety — it's even more true for parents.

And it's difficult to deny that the potential for danger will increase this year now that the Hernando School Board decided to bus only children living farther than 2 miles from their schools.

Yes, Hernando has its share of registered sex offenders. And though car traffic in Hernando doesn't compare to some other nearby counties, we are part of the Tampa Bay area, recently named one of the country's most dangerous urban areas for pedestrians by Transportation for America, a nonprofit safety advocacy organization.

But here's why I think the board absolutely made the right decision to do away with these short routes:

Eliminating so-called courtesy busing, which is not subsidized by the state, will save the district $800,000 — enough to pay for a lot of teachers.

The over-hyped danger of sexual assaults and the more realistic hazards of speeding vehicles can be managed with a little thought and cooperation. Parents in most surrounding counties have done it for years.

And if more kids do end up walking, and I'm guessing that a lot of the younger ones will get rides, it would be good for them. They might even find they like it.

I don't mean to single out Berner, because a lot of parents feel the same way. But he was the one I happened to talk to, so his children's route to school was the one I checked out.

There are sidewalks on all but a short stretch of a quiet road. The route goes along Spring Hill Drive, but doesn't cross it. At 1.4 miles, it would be a hike for his 6-year-old son but probably manageable for an 11-year old. On a bike, it would be a breeze.

How did people get the idea that every other house might contain a child-nabbing monster?

Mostly through a few high-profile cases, including the abductions and murders of Jennifer Odom in Pasco County in 1993 and Jessica Lunsford in Citrus County in 2005. Considering the horror of those crimes, increased awareness is justified; protecting our children to the point of suffocation is not.

Violent crime against teenagers has declined by more than half in the past two decades, according to the U.S. Justice Department. And in more than 20 years of working for this newspaper in Hernando, I don't recall a single child here being snatched and killed by a stranger. Neither does my boss, Mike Konrad. Nor does Chief Deputy Mike Maurer, a 23-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office.

The federally created website saferoutesinfo.org advocates forming "bike trains" and "walking school buses" — groups of kids that neighborhood adults take turns leading — to further reduce the chance of traffic accidents and abductions. I think of child molesters as secretive and cowardly. It's hard to imagine one wading into such a crowd.

Would some paths to school be unsafe even with an adult chaperone? Maybe. Which is why the district made the right call last week to add a few bus routes for children who, for example, would have otherwise had to cross U.S. 19.

Compare that approach to the old one, which transportation director Linda Smith described as, "You call, we haul."

Busing was available for every student, in other words, and Westside principal Nancy Kesselring could watch children board just up the street from the school, then disembark moments later.

"Some kids are too pampered these days," Kesselring said.

She walked to school as a child and doesn't remember it as a hardship. Neither do I. Not even walking to middle school, which was a couple of miles from home, during a bus drivers' strike.

My friends and I formed our own walking bus. The kids who were allowed to stay up to watch Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and The Carol Burnett Show got a chance to tell the rest of us what we had missed. We stopped at a corner store to buy candy, which we resold at school for a huge profit. We cut through fields and woods we previously didn't know existed. We started walking in February, but even after the strike was settled in the spring, we kept walking.

School bus route cuts pose little danger to Hernando County students 08/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 19, 2011 10:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lightning edges Red Wings on road

    Lightning Strikes

    DETROIT — The digs were different, the Lightning seeing the masterfully-done new Little Caesar's Arena for the first time.

    Lightning center/Red Wings’ killer Tyler Johnson gets past defenseman Trevor Daley on his way to the first goal of the game.
  2. Armwood pulls away to defeat Plant 27-7, remain undefeated

    Footballpreps

    SEFFNER — First-year Armwood coach Evan Davis pulled out all the stops to get his team psyched for Monday's annual grudge match against Plant.

    Armwood defensive end Malcolm Lamar (97) gets fired up before the start of the game between Plant High School Panthers and the Armwood High School Hawks in Suffer, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.
  3. Clearwater police: Car thief dead after owner fires gun

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — One man is dead after the owner of a car fired shots at the thieves who were stealing it Monday night, police said.

  4. Iraqi forces sweep into Kirkuk, checking Kurdish independence drive

    World

    KIRKUK, Iraq — After weeks of threats and posturing, the Iraqi government began a military assault Monday to curb the independence drive by the nation's Kurdish minority, wresting oil fields and a contested city from separatists pushing to break away from Iraq.

    Iraqi security forces patrol Monday in Tuz Khormato, about 45 miles south of Kirkuk, a disputed city that the government seized in response to last month’s Kurdish vote for independence.
  5. Trump and McConnell strive for unity amid rising tensions

    National

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, tried to convey a sense of harmony Monday after months of private feuding that threatened to undermine their party's legislative push in the coming weeks to enact a sweeping tax cut.

    President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell field questions Monday in the Rose Garden of the White House. “We have been friends for a long time,” Trump said.