By Olivia Alveshere
Yellow school buses have been largely absent from area roadways the past three months, but with 36,000 students back to school in the Anoka-Hennepin School District Sept. 5, the wheels on the district’s fleet of 380 buses went round again, and drivers may be noticing some changes.
Perhaps most visible will be the use of eight lamp warning lights and stop arms when buses pull over in right-hand turn lanes to pick up or drop off students. Previously, buses did not use all of the bells and whistles in right-hand turn lanes, and other drivers sometimes experienced confusion about whether they were supposed to come to a complete stop behind the bus or proceed through the intersection, said Keith Paulson, Anoka-Hennepin transportation director.
Clarity from lawmakers will have drivers use the eight lamp flashers and stop arms in most cases so that other traffic will know to halt.
Anoka-Hennepin has 44 pick-up and drop-off points in right-hand turn lanes, according to Paulson.
“We’ve got a pretty good safety record, and we want to keep it spotless,” he said.
The Legislature increased the fine for disregarding a school bus’ stop arm this year from $300 to $500.
“There are daily stop arm violations in Anoka-Hennepin,” said Paulson, who hopes the increase will serve as a deterrent and keep kids safe.
Some changes will be felt by parents of schoolchildren more than the general population.
Paulson testified at the Legislature to help criminalize trespassing on school buses. A law change makes trespassing on a bus a misdemeanor.
Last year the district had five instances of parents boarding school buses despite drivers’ instance that they not do so.
Typically, there was an incident at the bus stop or at school that the parents wanted to question other kids on the bus about, but that is not an appropriate avenue, Paulson said.
“Our job is to protect the kiddos when we’ve got them on the bus,” Paulson said. “When the driver says no, parents need to abide by that.”
Additionally, Paulson is looking to change transportation policy to match practice when the guardian of a student with special needs does not appear to be home at the end of the day.
Drivers wait to see whether students get in the door, make eye contact with a guardian or ensure the student is met by their guardian at the bus stop, depending on the students’ needs.
If a student is locked out or no one is there to greet the student, the driver tries to contact the guardian, and when that fails, policy states that drivers are to bring students to the Adventures Plus program at Champlin-Brooklyn Park Academy for Math and Environmental Science once he or she completes the remainder of the route. But by the time a driver does that, Adventures Plus is about ready to close for the evening, so drivers end up calling law enforcement to locate a child’s guardian instead.
Policy revisions to be approved by the School Board omits the need to bring children to Adventures Plus and allows drivers to contact law enforcement directly after exhausting other avenues.
“We don’t like calling police,” but the need arises a couple of times each month, according to Paulson.