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Harrison School Bus Route Eliminated in Green River | #schoolsaftey

GREEN RIVER — Some students who took the bus to Harrison Elementary School last academic year will be walking to school during the 2023-2024 year.

One bus route has been eliminated for the forthcoming school year and that is for Harrison Elementary. However, the walking route will feature crossing guards to assist students at both East Teton and West Teton, according to Sweetwater County School District (SCSD) No. 2 Transportation Supervisor Rachel Todd.

Todd said the change has absolutely nothing to do with saving money, and anyone who says or thinks it does is simply wrong. Every year after the academic year ends the state requires school districts to re-evaluate bus routes.

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In addition to the change at Harrison, the bus stops for kids heading to Lincoln Elementary routes have been re-evaluated to make sure they are not near another bus stop for another school. Todd said this should eliminate the possibility of a student mistakenly getting on the wrong bus and heading to the wrong school. Todd explained that this should mean no more than “five extra houses” that a student has to walk past in order to get to the bus stop. Complete details have been emailed to parents.

The Wyoming Legislature is to blame for some of the changes, Todd said. The state mandates that K- 8 students living within 1.7 miles of their school are ineligible for bus service and therefore must walk to school, unless their walk route contains an obstacle or potential for danger.

“Transportation is on the chopping block every time the state Legislature meets. You have state legislators who just don’t care about education,” Todd said.

Wyoming is the only state that provides 100 percent reimbursement for school bus transportation, Todd explained. However, the downside to that requires school districts to adhere not just to the spirit of the law, but to the letter of the law, including the 1.7 mile requirement. Failure to do so could result in less state transportation money for field trips and athletic trips.

Todd said she is hoping to eventually have a “walking school bus” for students hiking to Harrison Elementary along the Greenbelt. This initiative would involve an adult walking with kids on their way to and from school.

“However, right now we just don’t have the manpower” for a walking school bus, Todd said.

Bus Drivers Needed

SCSD No. 2 currently has 29 bus drivers, but Todd would like to have 35. There are also four standby bus drivers that can sometimes help; Todd said she would like to have at least six such substitute “floaters”. She and part of her staff also have commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) and can drive school buses when necessary, in addition to their many other duties.

“We have an amazing bus driver training program that adheres to federal guidelines. We don’t just send you as a new bus driver out there on their first day,” Todd said. “Safety is our No. 1 priority.”

Bus driver trainees get paid while earning their CDLs, Todd added. The most important requirement is that bus drivers be people who enjoy being around kids.

“Driving the bus is the easiest part of the job,” She said.  “We provide training in student management.”

Moreover, Todd described a busload of kids as a “moving classroom” and that as a result there are bus aides who assist with maintaining order among the kids on the bus, so that the bus driver can do their job and deliver a load of kids who are ready to learn at their school.

Bus drivers report for duty typically by 6:30 a.m. and work until about 8:40 a.m., then again from about 2-4 p.m., although Todd said that for some of the more remote routes bus drivers may need to report earlier.

“I care very passionately about our bus drivers and our kids, and as always, safety is priority  No. 1,” Todd reiterated. “I have four kids of my own.”

One thing that will make school bus drivers more upset than anything else is when they see a driver in a hurry go past their flashing bus sideboard stop sign, Todd said. Kids don’t always look both ways before going out from a bus and running across a street. If a driver ignores a flashing stop sign on a bus and a child runs out in front of the car and is hit, the outcome is never good for the child.

“If you ignore a stop sign on a bus and you are caught, you are going to get a pretty hefty ticket,” Todd said.

Winter Bus Driving

Driving a bus in winter road conditions is a part of the training that bus drivers get. Todd said she keeps in touch with weather forecasts several days ahead when bad weather may be on the way. She keeps up with forecasts and news from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Association in Riverton, among other forecasting agencies, as well as police information.

“I’m often up by 4 a.m. in winter, sometimes earlier, to see for myself what it’s like outside,” Todd said. In the end, though, Todd said, “I trust my drivers.”

Be that as it may, Todd explained that she and SCSD No. 2 superintendent Craig Barringer are looking for ways to avoid “shotgun decisions” about school closures.

“I get dinged if I do and dinged if I don’t,” Todd said. “You have parents who say to close the schools if there is just a bit of snow, and other parents who say, ‘This is Wyoming, after all’ and that schools should never be closed.”

Weather forecasting is not an exact science. When she gets up at 4 a.m. the weather could be fine, Todd said, with no trouble, but then by 6:30 when bus drivers report it could be a raging blizzard. 

A predicted storm may turn out to be much less powerful than was thought, and a flurries prediction could turn out to be a raging snowstorm. Late school starts can help solve some of the dilemmas. There is one key consideration about school closures that many people overlook, Todd said.

“We know the kids are safe at school and we know the kids are safe with their parents,” she said. 

But many kids come from families where both parents work and are gone during the day. The point at which the danger of school buses being out on treacherous winter roads and weather outweighs the concern about young children possibly being home all day long, alone, with no  parents or babysitter around to supervise them, is something which the school district has to consider. Todd said that decision is never easy.

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