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One cheek on and one cheek off: safe school bus practice?

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, October 6th, 2011 at 6:28 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

During the past week, parents of a student who used to attend Glenbrook Middle School have spoken up, alleging the district’s efforts to transport displaced students from the closed Glenbrook campus to El Dorado Middle School are unsafe.

Ron Quinn sent the following (excerpted) e-mail to the school board Tuesday:

“My son attended Glenbrook last year but with the closure is now attending El Dorado Middle school. We are about 4 miles away and have had to purchase a bus pass to get him to and from school in the amount of ($85) per semester. Today we were not able to send him to school because of a serious safety issue with the school district’s transportation. We were told that there would be a least two school busses that would pick up and drop off children at Glenbrook. This has not happened. There is one bus in the morning and three busses in the afternoon. Not sure why this is but this morning there was an in excess of 66 children for one bus. Three children per seat are not safe. Many of the kids are sitting half in the seat and half in the aisle….I am not very happy about this situation and would find it hard to believe that the school district would purposely be placing children in danger. Please let me know what the actual bussing schedule is because what we have been seeing is not what has been advertised …”

When he got no immediate response, Quinn sent this (excerpted) e- mail to the Times:

“After two hours of no response I called … and was directed to the Transportation department. I talked to a lady named Connie who is in charge of the busses. I asked her about the bussing situation because today the bus was too crowded to safely send our child to school. She clarified a couple of things for me. 1) there is only one bus in the morning to pick kids up. 2) there are two busses in the afternoon — one to take kids home at the end of school and then a 5:30 p.m. bus to take kids in the after school program home. When I mentioned how crowded the bus was she stated that it was not and that the capacity of the bus was 85 children. When I mentioned that every seat had three to a seat and that they were sitting so that the third child was half on a seat and half in the aisle she stated that this was acceptable. When I mentioned that to me this was not safe and seemed to be a safety concern she said that it was safe to sit half in the aisle. She said that three to a seat was acceptable and when I asked if this took into consideration the size of the child and asked if it would be possible to sit three large students to one seat she again said it was safe. (I don’t agree with her assessment.) If the bus were to have to stop suddenly how would the students who were sitting half in the aisle prevent themselves from being thrown from their seats? Personally I would not place my son in danger and if my son cannot sit in a seat properly I don’t believe it’s safe.

She also stated that there are no more busses or equipment and they were limited to one bus. She also stated that if the bus was over crowded that driver would have placed an all call for another bus to pick up the students. When I reminded her of her statement about no other busses being available she paused for a little and then said that they would have made every effort to get the students to school on time…”

I spoke to Connie Prasky, the driver trainer, today.

“I was instructed by the superintendent to continue running the bus as it is,” she said.

Prasky said the bus capacity was 84 and that it didn’t matter how big the students were.

“It is legal to run three to a seat,” she said. “I run high schoolers three to a seat. If they’re big, they usually have one cheek (on the seat), but it is legal.”

She said studies show that school buses are one of the safest modes of transportation, because of “compartmentalization” of the seats, which protects students. I asked if she was aware that compartmentalization requires students to be fully seated, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

She replied: “I have not read anything about that.”

Here’s what the NHTSA’s website says about the number of persons who can safely sit on a school bus seat:

“…The school bus manufacturers determine the maximum seating capacity of a school bus….based on sitting three small elementary school age persons per typical 39 inch school bus seat…School transportation providers generally determine the number of persons that they can safely fit into a school bus seat. Generally they fit three smaller elementary school age persons or two adult high school age persons into a typical 39 inch school bus seat.”

Quinn’s wife, Raquel Escobar, told me her son said he was partially leaning on his knee in the aisle on the way to school this morning. His leg “fell asleep” by the time he got to school and he could see the imprint of ridges on his knee from the floor, she said.

Superintendent Steven Lawrence says the district is acting within the law. He characterized the parents’ complaint as a “comfort concern” and said in an e-mail that the district would explore the possibility of providing a second bus after it finishes training a new batch of drivers.

Do you agree with the district’s practice of seating school buses at their maximum capacity?

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