What to do a about the problem of motorists breezing by stopped school buses?
School Committee member Fred Small is advocating a get-tough policy in which cameras would record the license plate of every driver who passes a bus picking up or dropping off students and reporting them to the police. He broached the subject at the School Committee’s Wednesday, Jan. 11 meeting. Small attended remotely via phone.
“If it’s ‘legal’’ for us to do this, I would love for us to be able to – it’s such a safety hazard and, for me, has no place on our streets, so to speak,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak asked, for clarification, if that entailed placing a camera on the red stop signs that unfold when a bus stops, which records the information and for the district to report to the RMV or police.
“Yes, and we would report every instance,” Small said.
Chair Christopher Howard said several other school districts are also discussing the issue, wondering how big an issue it is, suggesting that Szymaniak could talk to First Student and get the bus company’s view. He was also concerned the other districts were dealing more with city streets or multi-lane streets.
“I don’t know how much it happens here,” Howard said.
“Usually, we would hear about that, and I don’t hear a lot about it,” Szymaniak said.
Small asked if the committee could at least make a start by seeking a consensus among the police chiefs and school resource officers over the legality of such a move.
Member Steve Bois asked what Mass. General Law outlines on the subject.
“That would be the first thing, to allow us,” he said. “Obvioulsy, I don’t want to see anyone blasting past a school bus.”
Vice Chair Christopher Scriven said, while the district wants to do all it can to ensure the safety of students, he said he could not remember the last time he saw someone blow by a stopped bus.
Member Glen DiGravio said he has seen it happen
“All you need to do is look on social media,” Szymaniak said. “Every now and then somebody gets blasted for it. Our drivers would try to flag that license plate if they did, but we don’t have that device.”
Scriven suggested a survey of First Student bus drivers might be a good first step in gauging the extent of the problem.
“If you’re asking bus drivers what their biggest concern is, it’s going to be the motorists who have their head down on their cell phones as they’re driving by them,” Howard said.
Szymaniak said, while cameras are not a bad idea, he doesn’t know if he can contractually push First Student to do that right now, but said it was an issue worth bringing to the committee for discussion.
Member Dawn Byers said she recalled the issue might center around a statewide effort.
“I’m certainly in favor of getting more information about it, but I don’t think it’s something us independently would do,” she said.
Assistant Superintendent George Ferro said there are 24 states where the cameras are legal, but only 12 have taken any action to implement it so far.
“It’s called bus arm stop cameras,” Ferro said, adding he had just Googled it. He and Szymaniak said the district maps bus routes to try and avoid having students cross roadways to get on the bus. He added that the high school parking lot during morning parent drop-off is a bigger problem from a safety standpoint.
“It does get active in the morning,” he said.
Howard agreed more research can be done while the district asks First Student.
“I’m certainly all for the safety of our students,” Howard said. “To me, there’s other things to consider, too.” He mentioned yellow caution light violations and speeding in school zones as well as people texting while driving as examples. He suggested it could be part of a larger brain-storming session on student safety.
DiGravio said a pilot program of Small’s suggestion was conducted in Medford in 2011.
In other business, members of the Student Advisory Council spoke in favor of the budget line item to return foreign language to the middle school curriculum.
“Foreign language has been an invaluable piece of my education here at Whitman-Hanson and being able to continue foreign language into senior year and being able to take a college-level course before I’m even in college has been incredible,” said Riley Getchell, adding it would bring a higher academic standard to the district’s middle schools. “The grades below [us] haven’t been able to experience this and they’re most likely going to see the effects of this in their college applications and not being able to have that advanced level of foreign language.”
SAC member Emma McKeon has a younger brother in the Duval School who’s been asking her to teach him Portuguese because he has a friend who speaks the language. He wants to be able to speak with his friend.
“The elementary schoolers, which is surprising because they are at such a young age there, are really striving to learn these new languages, which I think is amazing,” she said. “It activates all of the different strategies in your brain and helps a lot.”
Khloe Drake agreed that languages help with cognitive abilities.
“Learning these languages at a younger age helps [students] be more fluent,” she said.
Noah Roberts, who said he surveyed other students over the summer on his Instagram account, touched on what he termed a language-adjancent issue.
“As our schools, and our towns in general, have become more diverse with [residents of] different backgrounds and cultures, I think there’s an increasing need to have some type of education on these different cultures to make these people feel more represented,” he said. “What I’ve had is just one basic monolith of a specific parts of American history and not much outreach besides that.”
He said it could also provide outlets for students of other cultural backgrounds to express how they feel.
Vice Chair Christopher Scriven commended Roberts for his work in bringing students’ concerns about inclusion to the committee’s attention.
School Committee members David Forth and Dawn Byers thanked the students for speaking their minds reminding the committee that the high school students were speaking from the vantage point of having had no middle school foreign language instruction because of budget cuts that were made in spring 2019.
Ferro said that Spanish and French were cut from middle school curriculum in 2003 and then, in 2009, it was reinstituted on a limited basis with both schools sharing a single teacher, later hiring another teacher so each school had one.
But, it was still a matter of selecting which students could take a language, Ferro said, because there were more students wanting to take it than there was room for in the classes.
“A lot of it became political, I’m just going to say, and a lot of it became an issue,” he said.