School Bus Overcrowding: Routes change in Fargo to make more room for students

The Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation suffered an unimaginable tragedy at a school bus stop last month. Four children were hit and three of them died as they crossed the road in the early morning darkness.

While the legal system determines the blame in this case, there are a lot of questions about what else could be done to protect all school children at bus stops.

School corporation at center of deadly bus stop crash denies public access to records

Tippecanoe Valley is not alone in their grief. During that last week in October, there were five children across the nation killed in bus stop accidents. Seven other children were injured.

AKRON, Ind – Three weeks after a woman in a truck hit and killed 3 children at a bus stop in Fulton County, the Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation is responding to public records requests made by our investigative team. Today, the superintendent sent a blanket denial to our request for records related to issues brought up at school board meetings. The denial comes 20 days after the request was made.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the most dangerous time for students is when theyre getting on or off the bus in the early morning hours, when kids might be waiting at stops in the dark.

Thank you for your patience as the Tippecanoe Valley School Corporation community copes with this terrible tragedy. In response to the tragedy, I am establishing a transportation safety review committee which will examine all of our bus stop locations to ensure our children are transported safely. I am pleased both Sheriff Sailors and Sheriff Goshert will co-chair this committee with me.

Or in the case of Alivia Stahl, Xzavier and Mason Ingle, and Maverick Lowe, crossing a highway in the dark to board their waiting school bus.

The requested information is in the public interest and will contribute significantly to the publics understanding of safety and student transportation. As a member of the media, it is my duty to provide this information to the public. This information is not being sought for commercial purposes.

Some argue that Congress should move Daylight Saving Time. Others ask for cameras on stop arms or tougher penalties for drivers who break the law.

The Indiana Access to Public Records Act requires a response time within seven business days. If access to the records I am requesting will take longer than seven days, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.

But Jessica Chambers from Rochester says theres an easier way that makes the most sense. Shes started a movement to get laws changed so that Indiana school busses drop off and pick up students on the right side of the road.

Video: Drivers arrested in bus stop blitz

I just want to walk with her every single step, but its so hard with two other kids, said Chambers. In addition to McKinley, Jessica and her husband, Derrick, have 4-year-old Brenna and 9-month-old Evie.

ABC57 sifted through more than a decade of School Board Minutes to see if there were ever any concerns about bus routes or safety. During the search, we found two documented events that we believe needs more context. Below is the request in its entirety:

This is the main road in and out, and everybodys flying to work, so its scary, said Chambers.

During items from visitors, Chris Moorehouse addressed the Board regarding concerns from a group of parents who had incoming fourth grade students at Mentone Elementary. Mrs. Moorehouse and the group addressed the following issues:

They live just north of Rochester, and only a few miles from a roadside memorial marking the scene where three children died.

Its just heartbreaking. Losing one kid, I cant even imagine. But three? And the one boy that was hurt, thats just terrible, said Chambers as tears filled her eyes.

With regards to your request for records under Indianas Access to Public Records Act, I have consulted with our legal counsel and we must deny the request because it is not reasonably particular.

Like so many in her community, she drives that same stretch of Highway 25, and its always on her mind.

Mentone having 28-30 students in grade 4; Akron having under that amount in grade 4 and the Indiana state average indicated as 17:1 student to teacher ratio on the DOE website.

The day after the accident, Jessica went online to Change.org and started a petition, calling it “Require Buses To Board Without Children Crossing The Street.”

Under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act § 5-14-3-1 et seq., I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of the public records described above.

A child should not have to cross something like that, exclaimed Chambers. They shouldnt have to do that.

We cant trust the driver to stop, Chambers continued. You dont know whats going on in the car, in their mind. So we have to eliminate a situation which is the kids walking across the street.

I have a couple of questions and requests in regard to minutes from the TVSC and school corporation policy.

I just didnt think it would catch on. I thought maybe my mom and maybe my grandma will like it or share it or something, laughed Chambers. I woke up and there were probably 500 signatures and I was really shocked. And it just blew up from there!

NewsCenter 16s Tricia Sloma took it straight to the state leaders of her district: Indiana State Representative Jim Pressel and State Senator Randy Head.

“There will be a change as of Monday for Route 132. Two stops are being taking off Route 132 and added to Route 100. Route 100 currently serves Kennedy and Davies, so it is another run for that route. Sometimes we do have to change bus routes throughout the year. Ridership changes throughout the year, and therefore, we have to respond when a route becomes full or overcapacity,” says AnnMarie Campbell, a spokesperson for Fargo Public Schools.

Up until 2015, we had a law on the books that said you had to pick up on the right side where practical, and that law was removed from the books, said Head.

In 2015 it was removed, and Im not sure why, said Head. I know that around that time there was an effort to look at laws that affected schools and to remove regulations that werent necessary or that the people thought werent necessary.

Starting Monday, Nov. 26, Valley Bus says two stops are being removed from Discoverys route 132 in the afternoon. Those stops will be added to route 100, which has more room. Valley Bus says that should take about 25 students off of route 132, which carried up to about 65-students before.

Head says before drafting new legislation, hes gathering information from all around the state, especially from bus drivers and superintendents.

If parents have concerns about overcrowding on school buses, theyre encouraged to reach out to local education leaders like their schools principal, the superintendent, the local school board or even the Department of Public Instruction.

I want to make sure were doing something thats going to have a substantial effect to make things safer for children out there, said Head.

Its possible to pass a law that makes schools do what we demand that they do, said Head. But, if we dont pay for that and its just an unfunded mandate, we create more problems for schools that way.

FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) – Multiple whistleblowers tell us theyre seeing and experiencing extreme overcrowding on Fargo school buses, and now Valley Bus is responding.

There are a lot of people who have a lot of ideas, said Head. The thing is, get the best ideas, make sure they are evidence-based and to move forward.

At this point, route 132 is the only one Valley Bus has told us theyre adjusting, but whistleblowers say theyre also concerned about Discovery routes 110, 106, and 135.

One idea comes from Indiana State Representative Jim Pressel. He wants a distracted driving bill to include stop arm cameras by the next legislative session. Its something he was working on weeks before the tragedy.

Theres 20 other states that currently have stop arm cameras. And theres different variations of them, said Pressel.

This is your opportunity to speak to everyone who signed that petition in your district. What are you willing to do? Sloma asked Pressel.

Im already a step ahead, right? So the legislation is being crafted. I wish I could tell you exactly what the legislation is, but there are so many moving pieces, answered Pressel. As it goes through the General Assembly this session, there will still be a lot of moving pieces. There will be some changes.

I think a piece of legislation sends a message to it. Its important and you should be taking a good hard look at it, said Pressel. I think a lot of our school boards/school superintendents are already looking in that direction.

Like Rochester Community School Superintendent Jana Vance. That district rerouted their busses to pick up and drop off curbside right after the tragedy and before they knew of Jessica Chambers petition.

For us, its not going to add a lot of money or time to the routes, nor is it going to add a huge change in effort to get this done, said Vance.

Honestly, if they lose two minutes on a bus route, who cares? said Brad Weaver, the Rochester School Board president and an Indiana state trooper. Its time. If we have to pay an extra $100 a year for fuel, who cares? Ill pay the money if we had to! Anybody would! Its very much common sense, and thats what were trying to do here.

You can only blame the driver so much. What can we do to avoid putting our kids lives in the trust of someone we dont even know? said Chambers.

Its tough, just because it is such a small town, said Chambers. It couldve been someone on my daughters bus. Couldve been my daughter. It was so close to home.

If you would like to contact either State Senator Randy Head or State Representative Jim Pressel, here is their contact information.

Indiana SenateState House200 W. Washington StreetIndianapolis, IN 46204Phone: 800-382-9467 or 317-232-9400Email: [email protected]

Indiana House of RepresentativesState House200 W. Washington StreetIndianapolis, IN 46204800-382-9841 or 317-234-9380 Email: [email protected]

Heres the link for Jessica Chambers petition on Change.org: change.org/p/require-buses-to-board-without-children-crossing-the-street


Posted in Fargo