ANGOLA — Safety is the focus of the Metropolitan School District of Steuben County transportation department.
Transportation Director Gary Puckett reported to the school board Tuesday night, explaining new state law that requires a safety audit of all routes by Sept. 1. In the first week of the 2019-20 school year, Puckett said he is discussing “dicey” stops with drivers.
All routes have been designed so children get off the bus and go directly toward their homes, not crossing a road. Puckett said he will consider tweaks that can be made this fall to improve safety for the buses and children.
Senate Bill 2, also known as the Max Strong Bill, was precipitated by the deaths of three children struck in Fulton County while boarding their school bus in October. It contains measures including requirements for where students may be loaded and unloaded, curbside pickup and drop-off on highways, stop-arm cameras with enforcement and increased penalties for violators.
“We’re right in there with everybody else,” said Puckett.
This year, Angola Police Department and Steuben County Sheriff’s Department will be patrolling behind “hot buses,” he said. On those routes where people have been known to violate the stop arm law, random patrols will begin in September.
The two new 78-passenger buses added to the district’s 31 routes have cameras mounted on the stop arms to capture footage of those who violate the law by passing a bus while the stop arm is out. Last school year, the district purchased two stop arm cameras that were to be rotated from bus to bus.
A new district rule is that drivers turn buses completely off while waiting for students to board at schools. The initiative comes into play most noticeably at Angola Middle School in the afternoons, said Puckett, when buses gather to pick up and transfer children en route from various schools.
“That’s a local thing we did here,” said Puckett. It helps reduce the chance buses could accidentally be put into gear. Another benefit is that children and staff do not have to breathe the exhaust fumes.
AMS Principal Ryan Bounds mentioned the lowered noise level with the bus engines not running after school. He said it was “eerily quiet” and a good change.
The MSD buses themselves are in top condition, said Puckett. Indiana State Police inspectors marked a 95 percent success rate this year; the state average is 83 percent. Puckett thanked “meticulous” mechanics, conscientious staff and a supportive district.
In other business, the board approved a change to the Angola High School handbook addressing absences. Last year, a district-wide policy was in place detailing the number of days that could be missed before sanctions were leveled.
At the high school, said Principal Travis Heavin, there have been issues with students consistently missing, for example, the first period of the day, but attending the rest.
“Teachers came to us,” Heavin said.
The new policy allows teachers to mark students at “no grade” after missing nine classes in a semester. At that point, they must make up class time after school to resume the opportunity to earn credit for the class. After 14 absences, the student will be dismissed from the class for the semester.
Heavin said school was off to a “great start” and that the high school building looks great with aesthetic upgrades such as new carpet and wall covering. Repairs were also done to the middle school roof and carpet was replaced in the middle school library.