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Kids' bus stop becomes impromptu protest site
Parents don't want the children to walk across Bell Shoals road.
By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 29, 2007
Denise Schaller, holds a sign on Bell Shoals Road at Flatwood Court in protest of recent school bus stop changes for her child's bus stop. Several parents and children showed up to protest the change.
[Times photo: Skip O'Rourke]
BRANDON - Just before 7:30 a.m., one of the moms spotted it.
"Here comes our bus!" she yelled.
The half-dozen students and an equal number of parents looked up and waved as the bus rolled south on Bell Shoals Road.
The bus driver waved back - and kept going. The bus would return 20 minutes later to pick them up, on the northbound side, forcing the children to cross the busy road.
Parents and their children staged a protest Tuesday morning at the new bus stop at Flatwood Court, upset that children leaving the South Oak subdivision had to cross Bell Shoals - and two lanes of traffic - to board the bus.
By noon - after a visit at the stop by the school district's transportation chief and a heated venting by parents - the problem appeared fixed. Mostly. District officials said the bus now must stop for the children on the southbound side of the street, the same side where they stand at the subdivision entrance.
Parent Pearl Chiarenza said that while the change was enough for her to allow her children to take the bus, she will continue to fight until the stop is moved back inside the subdivision.
"We still have the risk of our kids on the corner," she said.
Children using radar guns have clocked motorists speeding at 70 mph down Bell Shoals in a 45 mph speed limit zone, she said. Parents have worried that speeders will hit a crossing student or careen into children waiting at the grassy subdivision entrance.
The school district changed bus stops in east Hillsborough County at the start of classes as part of a pilot project to increase bus route speed and efficiency.
Earlier Tuesday, Chiarenza and a handful of other parents and children stood alongside Bell Shoals, shaking signs that read "Unsafe Bus Stop Here."
Transportation director John Franklin had agreed to meet Chiarenza at 7 a.m. Getting nowhere with phone calls, the group decided to greet him with a protest.
Some motorists called Sandi Katvala, the district's route coordinator for east Hillsborough, to complain that the children were standing too close to the road. She arrived and told parents to move the children behind the subdivision's stop sign, away from Bell Shoals Road.
"That's where they need to be now, and you're endangering their lives," she said.
Parents descended on her in a frenzy. Danger? What about the bus stop? And where was Franklin?
Katvala tried to calm them, and said she didn't disagree but she didn't make bus stop decisions.
About 7:45 a.m., the bus pulled up on Bell Shoals Road, northbound. Its stop arm dropped. Traffic in both directions halted, and parents crossed with the children, telling the driver the students weren't boarding.
They crossed back, the bus pulled away and the children scattered into parents' cars to be whisked to school.
Franklin arrived a few minutes later, apologizing, explaining that he had been meeting with other parents upset about bus stop changes.
Franklin listened to the parents, nodded and took notes. He said he did not know why the bus driver was told to stop on the northbound side.
"As we get parental input, we re-evaluate," he said.
Within a few hours, he told Chiarenza and the others that the bus will stop on the southbound side of Bell Shoals. But Chiarenza said she plans to keep up the fight to move the stop inside the subdivision.
"I'll go to a School Board meeting if I have to," she said.