A new school bus law in Louisiana is getting plenty of press as school districts prepare for the new school year, including planning their bus routes and relocating bus stops. HB 600 prohibits school bus drivers from picking up or dropping off children while the bus is in a lane of traffic.
Initially, the law was to take effect starting Aug. 1, but a July 28 decision by a state attorney general is now giving school districts more time to comply.
“We were waiting with bated breath for that,” Patrick O’Malley, ancillary services administrator for St. Charles Schools in Luling told The Times-Picayune. “It's a big benefit. It would have been physically impossible to meet a deadline in effect Aug. 1.”
The new law will not permit students to cross any lanes of traffic to reach their bus stop. Opponents said while this bill is a well-intentioned response to the Shaud Wilson tragedy, it would cause “considerable logistical challenges” in transporting children to and from school. The Akili Academy first-grader was crossing the road to his school bus stop Feb. 3 when a motorist fatally struck him in front of his mother and siblings.
Every year a dozen students are killed by passing motorists while waiting at or crossing toward their bus stops, according to STN’s independent research culled from national wire reports.
The legislation specifically requires that students be loaded or unloaded on a shoulder, in a school parking lot or at another appropriate off-road location as determined by the school governing authority. But the requirements shall not apply if the shoulder of a municipal road is the only available alternative.
School officials and transportation directors have expressed concerns about potential cost impacts of the measure. Superintendent Tim Cooley told the Beauregard Parish School Board at its meeting last Thursday that school administrators are worried this bill could add some additional time to the routes and directly affect transportation costs.
“We're hoping it will not come down to extra buses, but we are certainly looking at everything," Cooley said. “Basically what they're saying is if a road or a highway has a shoulder on it, that bus ... would pull over to that shoulder and stop. It also says that no students may cross from the left side — it would be right side pickup only."
Cooley added that many streets on bus routes don't have areas where school buses can turn around to fulfill the right side pickup mandate.
"We're also concerned about the safety of the bus over on the shoulder of the highway," he said.
Cooley noted the school system was working with other districts, superintendents and transportation officials to see if some agreement could be reached.
While the bill is meant to enhance the safety of children as they cross the road to catch their bus, School Board President David Vidrine pointed out a safety issue may still exist.
“They're going to force the child to cross before the bus gets there and get in the right hand side,” said Vidrine. “That's a bigger concern.”
Desoto Parish Superintendent Dr. Cade Brumley told KEEL News that it is somewhat of a “nightmare” to re-route all the buses this close to the start of school; Desoto Parish students go back Aug. 5.
“We are working to get clarity with the authors of the bill to see if there is any relief we might be able to get from this,” said Brumley.
Transportation officials at the rural Ouachita Parish School Board (OPSB) have been working toward re-routing all of their buses so they are in line with the new law.
"The intent of the law is good because it’s for the safety of students crossing the road," OPSB Director of Transportation Skeeter Boyd told KTVE. "We just wanna make sure that everyone is knowledgeable about where to stand and not to cross the road. It's going to take us some time to implement this, but we are gonna start the first day of school with it," said Boyd.
District chiefs have stated the new routes will keep students on the buses for longer periods of time, which could add mileage to their system, he explained. And more mileage on the buses also means more money.
"It's going to increase the expense with fuel, but safety is the most important thing," added Boyd.