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October 21, 2009  |   Comments (7)   |   Post a comment

Approaches to Protect Students in Loading Zones

Recent student fatalities highlight the importance of maximizing safety in and around this area at schools. Pupil transportation industry professionals offer many effective ways to do so, from separating groups of traffic to implementing detailed policies for bus drivers to providing training for students. Communicating with school staff and parents is essential.

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Train students on bus safety; convey behavior expectations

Vail (Ariz.) School District’s transportation department has had railing installed at the district’s bus loading zones to stop students from stepping into the zones prior to boarding or after disembarking their buses.

School bus drivers are not the only individuals who need to follow rules to maximize safety in loading zones. The students themselves must understand how they should behave in and around this area to prevent injuries and fatalities.

Buster the School Bus and Barney the School Bus are popular tools for teaching students about school bus safety. Lewistown Public Schools' transportation staff uses the latter robotic bus, while the Oregon DOE and the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) use Buster. Larry Bluthardt, director of the KSDE's School Bus Safety Education Unit, says that an instructor travels to elementary schools and Head Start programs in the state from September to May to educate students.

Operations have also implemented a number of practices and programs to help students remember to use caution around loading zones.

Klippenes says that when students need to cross the street after leaving their buses, the drivers secure the buses and then walk the students across the street, reminding them to look both ways before crossing.

Huillet asks schools in Oregon to employ a similar practice. "If there are any crosswalks that go through a loading loop, I ask the schools to get a crossing guard out there so that kids can get across safely," he says.

In addition to visiting Columbia County Schools' elementary schools with Buster, Porter says a team of drivers use puppets to convey bus safety measures. Each year, the district also hosts a back-to-school safety festival. The transportation department has a bus onsite, and bus drivers give a safety presentation. Students and parents are allowed to board so that students can become familiar with proper loading and unloading procedures.

Dallessandro says his department has established a driver-in-the-classroom program wherein one of Lake Shore's drivers visits each elementary school classroom once a year to discuss bus safety.

"For the last three years, one of our driver trainers has gone to our high school in the summer, and she speaks to the driver's ed class about the school bus environment and what young motorists need to be aware of in the school lots and elsewhere," he adds. "She also has the students sit in the driver's seat of the bus and look in all of the mirrors so that they can see the difference between what our drivers see versus what they, as 16- or 17-year-old motorists, see in their cars."

Transportation Supervisor John Nunes says that Vail School District's transportation staff uses its annual bus evacuation drill sessions to relay its expectations about student behavior. The bus rules and loading and unloading procedures are also posted on the transportation page of the district's Website.

"Each student gets an agenda with a calendar, places for notes, etc., at the beginning of the school year and we put all of our bus rules in the agenda," Flores adds.

Partnering with school staff is crucial

For as much as pupil transportation professionals do to teach students about bus safety and proper behavior around loading zones, Derek Graham, section chief of transportation services for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, says school staff members should play a large role in educating students as well.

"It falls on the folks at the schools to help students learn what they need to do to be safe in the loading zones," he says. This includes looking both ways prior to crossing a street and staying orderly on sidewalks because there are vehicle travel lanes beside them.

In order for school administrators and staff to work with students on this issue, it is essential for pupil transporters to share their knowledge and expertise.

"Oftentimes we assume that teachers and administrative types understand what the dangers are in and around the buses in the loading and unloading zones," Furneaux says. "The truth is that teachers and administrators oftentimes know very little about what the safety issues are."

Furneaux emphasizes the importance of having school staff onsite at bus loading zones to supervise students while they board and disembark, and she therefore encourages industry officials to discuss with school staff members what constitutes dangerous behavior around school buses.

Things school staff should be instructed to look for include kids who are running or rough-housing around the loading zone, bullying and harassment prior to loading, students who drop things and try to go under the bus to retrieve the items, and students who try to walk between buses.

Many operations have formed a strong line of communication with school staff and require monitors at loading zones.

Nunes says he and Flores provide school staff members with information at the beginning of the school year to help them supervise the students.

"We outline what routes will be coming into and out of their schools, how many buses we will be bringing into their schools, how many children we expect to be transporting, and we discuss the process necessary to walk the students out of the classrooms and onto the buses safely," Nunes says.

The transportation department also makes a point to have at least one of its own staff members at one of the school's loading zones every day to monitor students and traffic flow, and to work with school personnel to ensure that the students stay behind the safety railing.

Rolling V Transportation Services has implemented a similar effort. Vallone says bus drivers share duties with school staff on the school grounds, and the company's safety team is in constant communication with the administration staff for the schools they serve.

In addition to instructing Fayette County school staff to watch for bullying and students playing around loading zones, Oakley says the staff must make certain that the students stand at least 6 feet back from the curb when buses arrive.

"The kindergarten teachers have learned to tell parents to make sure that their children's backpacks aren't too large and cumbersome," Oakley adds. "Teachers should also make
sure that papers are kept inside backpacks, and loading zone monitors should watch for students carrying loose objects."

John Benish Jr., chief operating officer for Oak Forest, Ill.-based Cook-Illinois Corp., believes that his company and its subsidiaries have a responsibility to work closely with the school districts they serve. "The important thing is to make sure that there's a partnership between the contractor and the school district," he says. "If an issue arises, it's our responsibility to make sure that they understand what the issue is and then work together on a solution."

The subsidiaries' managers must notify school officials and take immediate corrective action if the bus drivers notice problems at the schools. "Being proactive rather than reactive is key," Benish says.

Inform parents of loading zone and parking policies

Given the dangers motorists can present around school sites, pupil transporters and school officials also share a responsibility to communicate loading zone and parking policies with parents who transport their children to school.

Graham says that in many cases, school principals will share information with parents, whether it is through a newsletter at the beginning of the school that indicates where parents are allowed to park to pick up or drop off their kids, or through some other means.

Huillet encourages this at Oregon's schools. "If they have a map that they can include in the newsletter that shows the parent pick-up and drop-off area, that's a good thing, too," he says.

Baxter says that schools have a range of options at their disposal to communicate with parents, from connecting with them through their PTA involvement to sending memos home with kids, e-mailing information to them or posting information on the district Website. "Facebook and Twitter may be a couple of other avenues," he adds.

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(Continued from comment below): Certainly it can be agreed that by high school age a child ought to know better, but is that a reasonable expectation in the event children ignoring safe crossing directions are not immediately removed from riding the buses until fully resolved? Defiance from children is only part of the problem. The bigger issue is the adults (including parents) failing to do what they are supposed to be doing to help the bus drivers keep kids safe. Too many children die more so from indifference and failures to enforce than from a so-called tragedy. Violate safe crossing practices long enough and the result ought to be obvious. Free Death at the school bus stop booklet (Thread Post #4):

jkraemer    |    Jan 05, 2011 01:29 PM

Motion sensors at the front and perhaps at least on the door side of the bus can be an excellent help. Defining responsibility that is not so exclusive to the bus driver would save more lives. And there are plenty of districts that do define both child and parent responsibilities but get very little press. California requires the bus driver secure the bus and cross students, a frightening thought in other states where the drivers know the kids are out-of-control on their buses. (What excuse is there to allow any out-of-control child ride any school bus in any state?) In Regina, Canada the crossing sign and lights are prohibited in the city. Riders depart and walk to the nearest intersection to cross after the bus is gone providing students clear visibility in all directions. Not only can these devices unreasonably interfere with traffic, but according to Sgt. Koroluk, "These devices could give the students a false sense of security and therefore not take normal precautions to avoid motorists who do not obey them for one reason or another." Strict enforcement is often missing at the bus stop, kids refusing to make driver eye contact, crossing too close to the bus, running, horseplay in the road, running back to the bus, and on and on. When a tragedy does occur the usual is plenty of expressed sorrow about the death and a claim the buses are safe. In December of 2009 (PINELLAS COUNTY, FL) high school student Nora Hernandez-Huapilla was late one too many times to her bus stop and died running across the road in the dark, rainy weather and against the cross walk light when hit by a car. Soon after Nora's death school authorities were out in force instructing students how to cross the road - promptly told by students to f-off. Certainly it can be agreed that by high school age a child ought to know better, but is that a reasonable expectation in the event children ignoring safe crossing directions are not immediately removed from riding the buses until fully resolved? De

jkraemer    |    Jan 05, 2011 01:26 PM

This is all well in reguards to regular ed buses (full size buses) in school bus loops. How about the special needs buses that are forced to load and unload their students in the teacher parking lots along with the parent drop off's. Seems some schools don't like to have "special needs buses" associated with their schools. To add insult to injury, are told not to use their loading and unloading lights to keep the flow of traffic going. As a school bus driver of nearly 30 years, I run my lights no matter where I am loading or unloading and for the entire duration of tie-downs for a wheelchair or securing a student in an approved child restraint system. I hear other drivers calling over the two way radio to rudely tell another driver to turn their loading and unloading lights off so that they can pass. The job of looking out for our students fall upon the school bus driver. The driver has the choice to move the bus or look to make sure the area is clear for the bus to manuver.

Annette    |    Sep 25, 2010 04:53 PM

What is so very sad is that school attroneys have to deal with an issue after the fact. You will get very limited information at this point on the back ground and behind the scenes circumstances that led up to fatalities. There are just too many liabilities to cover now. Let us just look at the bare facts. ALL school bus drivers are provided training through the State of Indiana so they can obtain their School Bus Certification card. So with that being said, the bus driver knows proper safety precautions to be followed while loading and or unloading any student. The decision is ALWAYS the driver's when to load and unload. As a school bus driver for eight years with special needs students, a sub-school bus driver, and now school bus trainer, the driver is the one openning and closing the entrance door to the school bus. The people sitting behind a desk somewhere do not make that choice exactly when you load and unload in any given situation. You, the driver makes that choice based upon the safety training you have had prior to obtaining your CDL license and State Certificate to operate a school bus. That is the bottom line bare facts. Now lets look at this opinion I have. Again, the driver makes the ultimate decision to load and unload students. The driver does not get to decide exactly where on school property to load and unload, normally. The School Board has specific approved loading and unloading areas. The drivers are NOT to be loading or unloading anywhere else. In order to make such a change the driver should document a clear report, in writing, to the supervisor, director, and school Superintendent. You can state that this report is either a blind cc or a designated cc letter report. This means, with a cc letter you state at the bottom exactly who else is receiving this very same photo copied letter. In a blind cc letter you put no names at the bottom, just that there are others receiving this letter. This documentation does two things; it shows that the

Dan Luttrell    |    Apr 22, 2010 05:13 AM

Back in the early to mid 1980's when I first started working as a sub-school bus driver for the County, I noticed one thing that stuck out most at every school I traveled to - "there was no real designated traffic patterns." What I mean is that all had two way traffic everywhere. I submitted a report to my Director, Mr. Allen, at that time. He had me explain to him several of the school's and their specific roadway issues. He said he had never thought about these issues since no one ever complained that there was a problem before. He told me these were great ideas and he would take those before the School Board for input. It wasn't long after that until new signs were put up and building administrators were out on the parking lots and side walks directing traffic. The School Board changed all traffic patterns to "one-way" traffic flows. Several schools had new bus lane drive way designated pick-up and drop-off areas. I drove as a permanent special needs driver for eight years. I have worked in the transportation department a total of 26 to 27 years now. My first safety class for becoming certified as a school bus driver was conducted by Mr. Baxter, who now is at our State House, as State level Director. I pointed out the things I noticed due to what I was taught in the safety classes. Pay attention to safety training people. You can make a difference and save lives. That is a win win situation for all involved. There were other safety issues down through my years I always pointed out, sometimes I knew the person across the table did not want to hear about a few specific ones. I spoke up anyway due to the lives at stake. I still have my job and things were addressed even though issues were difficult to say the least. Do not just assume someone else should already be doing something about a safety issue. YOU are part of the EYES ON THE GROUND and BEHIND THE STEERING WHEEL. Someone sitting behind a desk somewhere can not possibly see what you do day in and day out. "I

Daniel Luttrell    |    Apr 21, 2010 05:15 AM

I work in school transporation and understand that dangerous traffic conditions around schools exist in epedemic levels across this country. My question is why must a student die before any action is taken to correct an individual hazardous situation? Most of these problem areas don't need a study commission just a little common sense.

Roy W    |    Apr 14, 2010 05:36 AM

I know that there has been available for over 20 yrs,of a system that alerts the driver and student that they are in the danger zone. All the mirrors and the best training in the world can not & has not prevented these accident! It's time to put an advance pedestrian warning system in the National Standards!

April Ford    |    Dec 21, 2009 09:09 AM

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