CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. - It's the first week of school and one student's parent says she's scared for his life. She's trying to get his bus stop moved because she says walking along a busy road is just too dangerous; but the school district disagrees.
"I'm afraid of him getting hit by a car and having my child sit in the hospital or six-feet under," Sharon Kolenda tells WINK.
Her family lives along what she calls a very dangerous road.
"The posted speed limit is 55 and they go in excess of 60, 65, 70 miles per hour," she says.
For the first time, Sharon's request to get the bus stop moved to the end of her driveway, was denied.
"I have twin boys that are in the third grade and they're picked up right at the end of the driveway and I don't know what the difference is between my 13-year-old and my 9-year-olds; but unfortunately, I don't even consider going up to 18-years-old safe to walk on this road," Sharon says.
The Charlotte School District told us in an email that the twin boys and their brother go to different schools and that the 9-year-olds are, "the only students attending East [Elementary] and placing the stop at the driveway makes sense."
But there is another reason why Sharon doesn't like the new bus stop.
"My son's feet are soaking right now and he's going to have to sit through six ours of school," she explains.
We followed Sharon, and her son Nathaniel on their way to the bus stop. It was less than a quarter of a mile and took less than ten minutes; but it was a very soggy walk.
"The only flat part is totally marshy water and if he wants to walk in a foot and half inch deep of water, he can be walking on flat ground," Sharon tells us.
And Sharon's son showed us just how wet he got by wringing out his sock for us.
"Last year my son ended up with athletes foot so bad that he had to go to the doctor's twice... his feet were swollen and it was a terrible thing. The cause, I believe, is from the grass being so high and sitting in school with wet feet all day," she recalls.
But having to walk through water is the least of Sharon's concerns.
"I'm afraid of something happening. Accidents happen on this road all the time... it's just a very dangerous road," she says.
Here is the response that the Charlotte School District sent to us in an email:
--Because a new middle school student moved into a residence on Scenic View, the stop was moved to accommodate this student, as well as Ms. Kolenda's student and her neighbors. Intersections generally provide better stop locations (having space, visibility, and public awareness), so we placed the stop at the intersection. Moving the stop back to the driveway, as she requested, would require the other student to walk along the same road.
--Another option might be to add a second stop. However, there are only 657 feet between the [kolenda's] driveway and the current stop location. Adding a second stop would violate safety best practice and school board policy. Having a bus make two stops on a road within a few hundred feet would not give the driver sufficient time to deactivate the warning lights and reactivate them for the next stop. The risk of a rear end collision increases significantly. Also School Board Policy requires .5 miles between stops unless safety considerations dictate otherwise.
--Although the walk path is grass, there is sufficient room to meet state statute requirements for safe walking by elementary students. The statute, 1006.23, requires 7 feet of space from the edge of the road on a road with a posted speed limit of 55 MPH "...having a surface upon which students may walk without being required to walk on the road surface." The area along Taylor Road meets these criteria.
--If a parent has a complaint about the transportation services, the first step is to contact the Transportation Department. We will explain the reasoning behind the stop placement, or the walk path. If the parent is still not satisfied, the department completes a Route/Stop Hazard report. Someone from the department will physically visit the stop location, check the walk path, and, if required, measure the walk distance. A record of the investigation is completed and the parent notified of the results.
--If the parent is still unsatisfied, they submit a written request for an exception to the Transportation Review Committee. The committee, established by School Board Policy, and serving as a committee of the Superintendent, is empowered by the Superintendent to grant exceptions to policy based on safety or unusual circumstances. The committee has members from the Charlotte County Sheriff's office, the Punta Gorda Police Department, two parents (one with elementary students, the other with secondary students), two or three school principals or assistant principals, the Assistant Superintendent of District Support Services, and one transportation representative (the Safety and Training Coordinator). The director is a non-voting member tasked with presenting the facts of the request. The committee reviews the request, examines the facts and concerns, and through a simple majority approves or denies the request.
--The final step available to the parent is a direct appeal to the Superintendent or Assistant Superintendent.
--When determining stop placement, student safety is the paramount consideration. We look for areas with sufficient room for students to stand at least 10 feet from the roadway while waiting for the bus. We look for walk paths that meet the state criteria, and that do not pass in front of a FDLE identified sexual offender or predator. We attempt to place stops at or near intersection as they provide the greatest visibility, and are the locations motorist most expect a bus to stop. When looking at walk paths we ensure students are not walking further than the distance established by school board policy and state statute. For secondary students, this distance is 1.5 miles.
Both Collier and Lee Counties emailed us their policies when it comes to bus stops along roads with no sidewalks. Here are their responses:
We route by FAC [Florida Administrative Code] and FS [Florida Statute] which define 2 miles by walk paths such as sidewalk or actual path such as a shoulder of a road with adequate space to walk. If the walking conditions do not meet FAC or FS such as middle and high school students then we request school board approval for courtesy transportation.
As far as a ¼ mile distance between stops is very situation specific. A ¼ mile stop distance could present a problem for the bus driver, students on the bus and the student at risk by other drivers that may try to maneuver around a bus in between the yellow and red lights being activated, deactivated then activated.
Given there are numerous neighborhoods in Lee County that do not have sidewalks, it is unavoidable that bus stops will be established in areas without sidewalks. I would refer you to School Board policy 7.02 which provides information surrounding bus stops.