"I don't know why, but this was probably the smoothest first day we have ever had," said Dumas Independent School District Director of Operations Eddie Crossland. On Wednesday, students headed back to class for the start of the 2019-2020 school year. Summer for them is officially over. Summer is also over for the motorists who share the roads with parents dropping off and picking up their children and the busses that transport students over 24 routes around the district.
"Everything is exactly the same as last year," said Crossland. Traffic patterns around the schools have not been changed, and "if you are going to the same school as last year, you are riding the same bus as last year and getting into it at the same place." Those children who do end up at the wrong bus stop needn't fear. They will not be left standing on the side of the road. "We don't leave anyone … we will get them to town and figure out where they are supposed to be."
Crossland has a message for motorists: "School buses are on the road. Watch the speed. The bus speed limit is 50mph, and we adhere to that. Buses are slow." Buses also make stops to pick up children and let them out. "Just stop for them. When the loading lights are on, stop and give them some room." Crossland says bus drivers activate yellow warning lights about 100 yards from where they intend to stop. It is legal to pass a bus with the yellow lights activated. Once the bus stops, the red lights are on, and the stop sign is extended, it is illegal to pass a bus. Crossland says there is no tolerance for those motorists who ignore the law and put the safety of children at risk. From time to time sheriff's deputies or members of the highway patrol will ride along on routes or set up to watch certain problem areas. In addition, "All of our cameras are up and running, and we use them on a daily basis." Motorists tempted to pass a stopped school bus while it is loading or unloading passengers may be in for a surprise. The security cameras installed in the buses last year are able to pick up and record most license plates that pass. by. "We file charges on every one we can identify, and we can identify the majority. We have done a bunch, and I know the highway patrol has done a bunch." And, he added, "Those tickets are high."
Crossland says insuring the safety of so many children as they go to and from schools requires constant attention. "We drive routes and try to pick the safest areas to load and unload," he said. Children are always loaded and unloaded on the same side of the road on which they live. They are never forced to cross the highway or street to get to the bus or home. Crossland says he has to send buses early to the elementary schools to try to beat the congestion that plagues all those schools at the beginning and end of the school day.
One change that some students riding buses will start to experience this year: seat belts. Crossland says the legislature has mandated that all new buses be equipped with seat belts and those belts must be used. Existing buses have been grandfathered due to the cost, but Dumas has two new route buses already equipped with seat belts, and two more are on the way for later this fall. Crossland says the students are having to get used to wearing the belts on buses, but he does not think it will be a problem. "That is an adjustment for our drivers and our students, but we will work through it. They know they have to wear them. They wear them in cars," he said.
Crossland hopes the rest of the year goes as smoothly as the first day. And, he hopes that motorists take care; nothing is worth the life of a child. As he has said before, "I couldn't live with myself if I killed a child because I was in a hurry."