Lee County won’t change school bell times this year, adding lights at bus stops

Some kids in Lee County will still have to head out the door before daylight to catch the bus to school. That is because school start times will not change for the upcoming academic year.

But the Lee County school board said they are focused on making bus stops safer, including making sure they are not in the dark.

Nicole Fitzpatrick, a mother of seven children, has kids in elementary, middle and high school who have to take the bus. After the fatal hit-and-run deaths of two little girls at or near bus stops earlier this year, she wants the district to move the school start times later.

MORE: Bus Stop Safety: Why are so many kids in Lee County waiting for the bus in the dark?

“When does it just happen?” Fitzpatrick said. “Why does it keep getting pushed off?”

Fitzpatrick also said more needs to be done to keep kids safe.

“I think their efforts are just piggybacking off of other efforts,” Fitzpatrick said. “I don’t think that they really put anything into place.”

Debbie Jordan, a Lee County school board member, said it is not an easy fix.

“There’s so many things that go into bell times,” Jordan said. “The family dynamics, the safety, the daylight, the darkness.”

MORE: Bus driver shortage contributes to long, dark morning rides for Lee students

Bus routes and after-school activities also factor in. But even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thinks schools start too early. On the CDC website, it recommends that parents and school boards nationwide consider moving them no earlier than 8:30 a.m. because it could lead to better academic performance.

High schools in Lee County start at 7:05 a.m. and some elementary schools start at 7:55 a.m.

“We’re trying to please the majority,” Jordan said. “Hopefully, we’ll get to that 100%.”

The school board said it is taking other safety factors into account first. These include bus stops, bus safety, benches, lighting and anything else relating to the stop. Also, limiting school choice for elementary school based on proximity, which means shorter bus routes.

But Fitzpatrick said there is no time to waste.

“No they’re not working as fast as they can,” Fitzpatrick said. “This could’ve been changed before the next school year.”

Jordan said there will be a workshop this summer to discuss changing bell times for the following academic school year. After they discuss it, then they will have parents weigh in with their opinions.

Meanwhile, kids in Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres should see more light poles at their bus stops.

From the Lee County School District:
The Superintendent and [the School] Board Chair recently met with Commissioners individually to discuss many different issues of which bus stops was one. At last night’s Board Meeting, Mrs. Gittens referred to her meeting with Commissioner Hamman where they talked about taking the list of stops that we provided the county in February and comparing it with their lighting map to identify spots for lighting.
 

In a separate vein, that same list was provided to the Lehigh Acres Streetlighting MTSU which created lighting priorities for its taxing district. One of their identified priorities is to put streetlights at bus stops.

MORE: Lehigh Acres Street Lighting District map

 
From Lee County:
[The map shows] the existing streetlights and school bus stops that were identified as being more than 100 feet from the nearest light.
 
The goals of the Lehigh Acres Streetlighting Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU), with priorities set in coordination with the advisory committee, is to:
1. Have a street light in close proximity to all school bus stops,
2. Light high crash/crime locations,
3. Implement a programmatic approach to add a light to all intersections,
4. Implement a programmatic approach to add a light to non-intersection locations, as needed,
5. All others (e.g. place a light in response to a request)
 
Using the East Zone School Bus Stop list provided in February, there were 419 school bus stops identified that do not have a streetlight within 100 feet. Adding lights to these 419 locations is the current priority of the MSTU and FPL and LCEC are currently working toward installing lights at those locations. LCEC anticipates installing all 241 lights that are requested for unlit school bus stops in their areas by the end of August. To date, they have designed/invoiced 187 and are still designing the remaining 54. FPL has not provided an installation schedule. FPL was given 178 unlit school bus stops to light. Since January 2019, 423 new lights have been designed and invoiced. Installation needs are anticipated to be re-evaluated once a new bus stop list is available for the upcoming year to identify new stops in need of lights.
 
The MSTU is self taxing. So property owners in the MSTU boundary are the main funding sources. The cost average is about $867 per light.
Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Michael Mora
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