You're damned if you do, damned if you don't. It's no secret that today's economic pressures on school districts has resulted in increased cuts of school bus routes or all-out elimination of service. With that often come changes to bus rider eligibility and the increase of walk distances either to and from school or to and from the bus stop.
This all resonated with me this morning upon reading about a 14-year-old girl in Lodi, Calif., who was struck and killed by a motorist while walking with her sister to the morning school bus stop in a rural farm community. The story brings up all sorts of challenges and worries.
While representatives at Lodi Unified School District weren't immediately available for comment, I did speak with local reporter Joe Goldeen of The Stockton Record. He told me that Lodi recently implemented a hub system to gather its school bus riders in centralized locations rather than pursue the old practice of door-to-door service, which budget cuts have rendered inefficient and costly.
Brianne Prieto, however, was apparently walking to a normal bus stop at a local elementary school, according to Goldeen. But that walk was along a very dangerous frontage road that runs parallel to U.S. Route 99, a main north-south highway that extends from the U.S.-Mexico border to the U.S.-Canadian border. Making matters even more dangerous, Prieto was struck by a 199 Dodge Durango at approximately 5:40 a.m., about 55 minutes before sunrise. She and her sister were also reportedly wearing dark clothing.
Also, the Prieto's death might have been avoided if she and her sister hadn't crossed the frontage road. While walking on the east shoulder, they came upon some boxes that the girls believed might belong to a homeless person. So they crossed to the west shoulder to avoid the situation and then proceeded to cross again back toward the east shoulder. That's when Prieto was hit.
The fact that there were no sidewalks or streetlamps along the frontage road, which Golden said he believes has a posted speed limit of 40 to 50 mph, coupled with the fact that the girls had another two-thirds of a mile to walk before reaching their school bus stop is troublesome enough. Add to it the fact the girls had to be up and about at such an early hour and that budget cuts may have played a role and you really do encounter a perfect storm of safety issues.
Editor's Note: Goldeen disclosed that he formerly was an elected school board member at a rural school district and that he knows first-hand the challenges of student transporting and busing. He is normally the health beat reporter for The Stockton Record but was given the story assignment on young Brianne Prieto because the normal education reporter is on vacation.