By Kim Howard
Use of a secondary bus loop at Allen Brook School, which a state official called unsafe, has been suspended for the school year. Since the installation of the secondary loop, some students have had to walk between buses to get to their assigned buses.
Stephen Sherrill, traffic investigations supervisor with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, told the Williston Observer last month that any process that requires children to walk between buses while loading or unloading is “ill advised” and “not a safe practice.”
The change to the system occurred about a week ago in response to a study that school officials have been conducting since October, according to school principal John Terko.
Through a bus rider study, Terko said officials found that one bus could be eliminated. “The numbers were low and the change made sense,” he wrote in an email.
The elimination of one bus enabled the school to move some bus parking spots for afternoon pick-ups. As a result of the parking shifts, a gravel driveway – functioning as a secondary bus loop – which cuts across the main bus loop will not be needed for the rest of the school year. The gravel drive had allowed for more flexibility for bus parking given varied afternoon bus arrival times to the school, according to Terko.
The Development Review Board last month expressed concerns about the safety of the secondary bus loop, which was not shown on site plans during the original permit approval process. Development Review Board chair Kevin McDermott said he is unable to comment about the most recent change in the bus loop without seeing it.
Terko indicated the elimination of one bus run, which led to the changes in bus loading, coincided with a bus driver on an extended medical leave. The change was not in response to the state official’s comments, he said.
Sarah Hibbeler, mother of an Allen Brook second grader, said her impression is that parents didn’t know they should be concerned about school bus loading prior to learning of the state official’s comments.
“I certainly didn’t have any concerns” Hibbeler said. “But I didn’t have any knowledge of how things were being done,” she said, noting that she is not at school during bus loading.
Hibbeler said she is confident the administration is addressing the concerns that have been raised. “I do feel that the school administration is very responsive when issues are brought to their attention,” she said.
Though the timing of the change was not related to the concerns raised several weeks ago, said Terko, “as long as we keep safety first, this change is safe and a good thing for our kids.”
Terko is not yet certain of the cost savings from the bus reduction, but said, “It is important to us that we be efficient in how we operate.”
Students on the eliminated bus were redistributed onto two other buses that travel close to their homes.
The secondary bus loop was one of several safety concerns raised by the Development Review Board in response to the school’s application for a new permit to extend the use of trailers functioning as temporary classrooms at Allen Brook School. The trailers were installed three years ago in response to overcrowding. The Development Review Board is scheduled to consider the permit application again at its Nov. 22 meeting.