Group begins review of Pinellas school bus stop safety

LARGO — Four weeks after a Pinellas Park High teen died racing to her bus stop on 66th Street, an advisory group met to figure out how to make stops like hers safer.

"We are here with an open mind, and we are ready to listen to your ideas," school superintendent Julie Janssen told the group of about 20 people, including parents, students and principals.

Jim Madden, deputy superintendent, then briefed the group during much of Thursday's hourlong meeting.

Stops on busy roads, called "arterial" stops, have been around since the 1980s, when the Pinellas County School District started some of its magnet programs, Madden said.

But the district significantly increased arterial stops in August to accommodate high school students who wanted to attend schools outside of their residential zones.

Staffers started reviewing the busing system after issues arose from the numbers of students taking advantage of the arterial stops.

In the 2008-09 school year, more than 3,000 students used them. As of fall 2009, more than 10,000 students used them, said associate superintendent Michael Bessette.

The death of 17-year-old Nora Huapilla "raised the urgency to look at certain things," Madden said after the meeting.

Principals from Pinellas Park High, Osceola High, Morgan Fitzgerald Middle and James B. Sanderlin Elementary volunteered to be part of the group.

Also tapped were district administrators, transportation workers, a school bus driver, a Pinellas County Council of PTAs vice president, a state Department of Transportation project manager, a Sheriff's Office lieutenant and a county traffic engineer. School Board member Peggy O'Shea will observe the meetings on behalf of the board.

Each received a folder of documents, including a sampling of arterial bus stops and summaries of studies on those stops conducted last fall and earlier this month.

The group will meet twice in February and present recommendations to Janssen on March 1.

Lauren Brooks, a junior at Osceola High, the district's only fundamental high school, is one of two teens on the task force. Students who don't live near a school "should still have an opportunity to go to that school," said Brooks, 17.

Rajiv Sahay, whose daughter is a first-grader at Sanderlin Elementary, said he's pleased with the busing situation for his daughter, Saumya, 6.

But he thinks there's room for improvement with the overall system. "Safety is definitely an issue," Sahay said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4155.

Group begins review of Pinellas school bus stop safety 01/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 4:48pm]

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