Column: School safety a high priority

DAVID B. SHOAR
DAVID B. SHOAR
Column: School safety a high priority

David B. Shoar
Sheriff
St. Johns County Florida

The safety of children going to or from school is of big concern to me and all of us at your sheriff’s office.

School buses are very safe and accidents involving them account for a very small percentage of injuries and fatalities to schoolchildren according the Transportation Safety Board.

The bad news is that although fatal school bus accidents are few, about three times as many children are killed while getting on or off the bus.

Here are some safety suggestions for bus students: Walk your children to and from the bus stop or arrange for them to walk with a group of kids under the supervision of an adult. Allow plenty of time to get there with just a few minutes to spare before the scheduled arrival time of the bus. Emphasize to children the importance of going straight to the bus stop. If you see anyone or anything suspicious going to or from or at the bus stop don’t assume someone else has reported it. Call us and/or your local police immediately. Make sure children understand they need to stand back from the curb and only step forward when the bus comes to a complete stop and the door is opened. Encourage your children to take a seat quickly and use a time when the family is together to talk about good behavior on the bus.

When you are with your child at the bus stop it is a good opportunity to get to know the driver even if only by eye contact and a friendly wave. That lets children know that the adults are on the same team when it comes to getting them to school safely.

The National Safety Council recommends that children who must cross the street at a bus stop do so by walking ten steps away from the front of the bus before crossing so the driver has them in his or her line of sight at all times. Children should be taught never to cross behind the bus.

Teach your children about the bus “danger zone” when waiting to board. The danger zone is anywhere close enough to touch the bus. I recommend parents log on to the St. Johns County Schools website and share the rules for bus riders with your children and know the penalties for violating them.

Now a word to motorists. Florida law requires you to stop for a school bus with red lights flashing and stop signs extended. The only exception is on a four lane divided highway with an unpaved space of at least 5 feet or a physical barrier and approaching the school bus from the opposite direction. U.S 1 outside the St. Augustine city limits and the portion of Race Track Road in the Julington Creek area are examples of such roadways.

Some of the children in the highly populated Julington Creek community on Race Track Road walk or ride their bikes to the three neighborhood schools along this busy thoroughfare. Many of the intersections near the schools are protected before and after school by trained crossing guards. Motorists should always obey those guards and their signs rather than the traffic signals because some children could still be crossing when the light turns green. Parents drop off and pick up children at all of the elementary and middle schools in the county. At most of those that have high traffic our office provides Public Service Assistants or deputies to help by directing traffic.

School speed zone enforcement is also a high priority for our office. Fines for speeding in a school zone are doubled and can be as high as $1000 with several points assessed against a license for possible suspension. Most of the violators we ticket in a school speed zone were not intentionally speeding but were just not paying attention because of a cell phone conversation or even texting and as a result learn a costly lesson.

I congratulate the teachers, administrators, and particularly the students who have again made St. Johns County schools number one in the State of Florida. Let’s make it tops in school safety too.

As always I appreciate your comments and suggestions. My e-mail is dshoar@sjso.org.

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