School Bus Delays Cause Later School Start Time

Photo from bcomber archives by Grant Gravagna

Photo from bcomber archives by Grant Gravagna

Starting on Jan. 13, the BHS start time was pushed back five minutes for a start time of 8:15 instead of 8:10. 

As a result, academy has been shortened by five minutes. The Wednesday schedule and bus routes have remained unchanged.

“Despite many attempted tweaks, traffic has been too heavy to allow all the buses to arrive 5-7 minutes before the first bell,” stated a letter sent out by the Beachwood Board of Education on Dec. 23. 

According to Principal Paul Chase, the decision to delay school start time was more effective than changing bus routes.

BMS Principal Tony Srithai was also involved in the decision because middle school students were arriving late as well.

“From the traffic patterns in Beachwood, we noticed that it’s very, very busy during that time,” Chase said. “We tried other adjustments [such as] changing one bus route and it just didn’t work.” 

Chase explained that he and Asst. Principal Ryan Patti did bus counts and monitored arrival times.

“[After] all that research, we figured that we had tried everything else [but changing the start time], [so that] was the best decision,” he said.

During first semester, when exceptionally heavy traffic or bad weather delayed buses to the point that they arrived late to school, students were not counted as tardy.

Additionally, throughout the first semester, some buses regularly failed to drop off students with sufficient time before the first bell, so that students had to rush to their first classes.

“The amount of traffic was not anticipated,” Director of Transportation Lisa Brockwell told the Beachcomber in November. “We had to revise routes to minimize the effect this has on buses.”

The schedule adjustment has already shown improvements.

It’s been excellent. All the buses are on time and all kids on buses are getting here on time for class, and honestly it seems like even tardiness among kids who drive is better.”

— Principal Paul Chase

“It’s been excellent,” Chase said. “All the buses are on time and all kids on buses are getting here on time for class, and honestly it seems like even tardiness among kids who drive is better.”

“[We’ve received positive feedback from students, parents,] and especially teachers,” he added.

Another issue with busing during the fall semester was overcrowding. According to Asst. Principal Ryan Patti, overcrowding on school buses was caused by poor communication between parents and the school. 

At the beginning of the school year, parents are asked to sign a form stating that their child will be needing the bus for transportation.  Patti explained that school bus routes are designed based on data gathered from these forms, and the size and number of bus(es) required is determined from that data.

Some families who didn’t turn in forms realized after the fact that their students also needed bus transportation as well.

“So that bus, which was designed for a certain number of kids, now may have over what it was expected because of the… families not really communicating,” Patti said.

To address the overcrowding, the district is now separating middle and high school bus routes.

“After monitoring our afternoon ridership for several weeks, we believe separating afternoon bus routes will allow earlier departures from each building without negatively impacting drop-off times,” stated the memo from the Beachwood School Board. “Eight buses will depart from the Middle School at 3:35 pm and immediately begin their afternoon drop-offs. Three High School buses will immediately begin their routes at 3:35 pm.”

District Purchases Bus With Seat Belts 

Last year, Beachwood third graders in Vicki Challenger’s classes lobbied City Council to pay for seat belts on new buses purchased by the district. 

As of this fall, according to School Bus Fleet, a magazine dedicated to covering school transportation, Beachwood has only one 72-passenger bus equipped with seat belts. 

This bus is used for field trips or sporting events involving highway travel.  However, this is only a pilot program; new school buses with seat belts may be purchased if the pilot proves successful.

At the beginning of the school year, two buses were borrowed from the Bedford school district, as stand-ins for new buses that Beachwood was waiting for. Once the new buses arrived, the Bedford buses were returned, according to Beachwood Transportation Director Lisa Brockwell. 

One of these new buses is number 11, the bus equipped with seat belts.

The Ohio State Patrol publishes standards for school bus safety, which mandate the number of emergency exits based on number of seats, required cages around fuel tanks, the types of brakes and fuel systems permitted on school buses, flame retardant materials used for floors and seats and other parts of the bus, and much more.

The standards do not mention seat belts, except for the driver.

Bus 11, Beachwood’s large bus with seat belts, has nine emergency exits, more than other buses in Beachwood’s fleet, but all buses are diesel-powered, have high-back fire-retardant seats, are compartmentalized (which would protect riders in event of a serious accident) and have cages around their fuel tanks.”

Bus 11, Beachwood’s large bus with seat belts, has nine emergency exits, more than other buses in Beachwood’s fleet, but all buses are diesel-powered, have high-back fire-retardant seats, are compartmentalized (which would protect riders in event of a serious accident) and have cages around their fuel tanks.

Additionally, drivers are required to hold three evacuation drills a year: a front-door, a back door, and a split-style evacuation, where students use both doors to leave the bus.

“Bus drivers also do checks on bus systems every morning,” bus driver Mary Woloszyn-Trantham said. “[We check] tires, doors, brakes, everything to make sure the bus is in good working condition before heading out.”

“The real danger to bus riders does not come from collisions, but from other drivers,” Brockwell said. “There have been cases where drivers ignore the school bus stop lights and strike students who are getting off the bus.”

Cars have been observed passing Beachwood buses on several occasions at bus stops.  This is part of the reason why onboard cameras have been installed: they help in identifying drivers who illegally pass school buses. They also serve to help administrators observe behavior issues on the bus itself

“Bus drivers go through several tests before they’re allowed to drive,” Brockwell said. “In fact, Ohio has the highest training standard for school bus drivers.”

No amount of training, however, can help bus drivers avoid traffic.  The hope is that the revised school schedules will help them drop off students on time.