Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 21, 2013

Overcrowding  — Mercer must address school bus issue

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— People browsing the Daily Telegraph Facebook page saw a worrisome sight Monday. A parent had posted a photograph of children packed tightly into a Mercer County school bus. The bus was so overloaded that the seats held four children apiece, and some students were actually sitting in the aisle. One parent decided to drive his son to school rather than risk putting him aboard that overflowing bus.

It was a situation any reasonable parent would find unacceptable. School buses are designed to carry a limited number of students, and they are not designed to go beyond those limits. Buses are built to be sturdy and safe, but they must be used in the way they were intended to be used.

The father who drove his son to Bluefield Middle School, Greg Burnette, said his son was also carrying his band instrument and there was no way he could fit in the bus. Students of all ages are often carrying musical instruments and sports equipment, and almost every student carries a loaded book bag and/or a lunch box.

Once loaded, bus drivers must maneuver these vehicles on twisting rural roads and busy highways, and they also must do it during rain, snow and other poor conditions. Truck drivers are often limited to how much cargo they can load before their vehicles become unstable, and school buses should follow the same sort of limits. They should not transport more passengers or luggage than their designers intended.

School bus drivers must also monitor their passengers while going to and from school, and this is difficult enough when they have a normal number of passengers. Monitoring what’s going on aboard an overloaded bus and driving it at the same time makes a difficult job even harder.

Mercer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Deborah Akers told the Daily Telegraph she had recently met with the school system’s transportation director and did not hear about any overcrowding issues. She stated that school bus drivers are aware of the policies in place if they find their buses are being filled to capacity.

Drivers are restricted on the number of students they can put on a bus, Akers said. If the bus is overcrowded, they are to notify the school system and a second bus will be sent out or school officials will look into “reconfiguring” the situation.

Burnette said his son’s bus has been crowded on the ride to and from school ever since schools reopened on Aug. 15. Policies put in place to prevent overcrowding have not been used.

The school system should check the situation quickly and change it either by adding a second bus to the route or a larger bus if possible. Transportation officials should also check to make sure all buses on the county’s routes are transporting only a safe number of students. Making sure students get to and from school safely is a great responsibility, so the school system should ensure that overcrowding aboard school buses is not an issue.