by nathan oster
A bus driver has asked the Big Horn County School District No. 3 board of trustees to establish a policy that would require parents to be present when their children are being dropped off by the bus and have to cross a lane of highway traffic to get to their homes.
Heidi Collingwood, who made the request during the community remarks segment of the Sept. 12 meeting, said she is concerned about the safety of the children and the district’s vulnerability to lawsuits.
In a letter to the board, Collingwood shared her rationale:
- “The speed limit has been raised since most of these (left side drop offs) were established;
- “The school day has been extended by 30 minutes, (which puts) the time for some students to be dropped off at dusk or dark during certain periods of the day;
- “Some school districts in the state have implemented similar policies. Most did so after a close call or death;
- “A consistent policy would offer better protection from lawsuits;
- “A consistent policy would eliminate the need to continually discuss and negotiate the issue with parents;
- “The safety of the students is paramount. This approach would go a long way in security the safety of our students.”
Collingwood said one solution would be a policy that states “left-side drop-offs are not permitted unless a parent is present at the time the student is dropped off.”
Bob Campos, the district’s transportation director, was present for the discussion.
He said the Wyoming Department of Education is on record as saying situations like the ones Collingwood is describing “should be avoided whenever possible.” Verbiage to that effect is also in the CDL driver’s handbook published by WYDOT, he said. However, they both stop short of prohibiting such actions.
Other districts have policies that are similar to the Greybull school district’s.
“I try to do everything I can to avoid these situations,” he said, adding that in some cases, routes have been modified to make the drop-offs safer for students.
There are only a few locations in the district — mostly in the Shell and Emblem areas — where students have to cross a lane of highway traffic after being dropped off by the bus. In one such location, the parents have authorized the district in writing to drop their high school-aged children off without them being present.
The issue stemmed in part from Collingwood’s refusal ealier this year to sign off on the district’s bus driver job description and unloading procedures for students crossing the roadway. All of the other drivers in the district signed off on it.
Campos said the district takes action when drivers do not obey the rules governing bus stops. A camera on the side of the bus captures video footage of the offending vehicle, and most of the time, the Wyoming Highway Patrol is able to read a license plate number.
The board took no action, but Chairman Eddie Johnson said the policy committee would consider the issue. Supt. Barry Bryant said he’d be curious to learn how many districts in the state prohibit left-side drop-offs.
Nolan Tracy, the district’s activities director, updated the board on a number of topics, including a reclassification plan for basketball, volleyball and track and a cost-cutting move that has already taken place for football teams traveling significant distances for games.
Tracy said the Wyoming High School Activities Association is considering a plan that would put 16 teams in 4A, 16 teams in 3A, 16 teams in 2A and the small schools that remain in 1A in the sports of basketball, volleyball and track.
The changes would not apply to football or wrestling.
For Greybull, the impact would be felt starting with the 2018-19 school year. The Northwest Conference, which currently consists of five schools (Greybull, Riverside, Lovell, Rocky Mountain and Shoshoni), would shrink to four schools.
Lovell would move up to 3A.
Shoshoni would move down to the 2A Southwest.
Tongue River, current in the Northeast, would join Greybull, Rocky Mountain and Riverside in the new 2A Northwest.
School officials in Dayton are adamantly opposed to the change and will be lobbying for the WHSAA board to reonsider. “It’s not a 100 percent guarantee that it’ll pass,” said Tracy, adding that Tongue River doesn’t like it for safety reasons due to the number of trips over the mountain that the reclassification would require.
Tracy said when the vote of all 2A schools was taken, the vote was 14 in favor, two against.
“The board will be looking at what’s best for all the schools, not just one,” he said.
Tracy said he supports the change. If Tongue River were to stay in the 2A Northeast, it would create a whole new set of issues for regional tournament. There would be four teams in the Southwest, three in the Northwest, which would result in first-round byes and an off day for one of the teams that loses its regional opener. A top seed would also have to win only one game to advance to the title game.
Tracy said he’d also have a difficult time filling openings on the schedule.
Tracy also addressed a growing concern among athletic directors statewide: the lack of officials.
“We have a crisis on our hands,” he said. “We just don’t have enough officials.”
Schools have gotten creative in their scheduling, going to Friday afternoon and event Saturday contests as a way of maximizing the current officiating crews. Tracy said that if it continues, and no new officials emerge, 7 p.m. kickoffs on Friday nights will become less common. He said some contests could be cancelled altogether.
On a final note, he said schools that play football in the 2A West are being creative this year in their scheduling to save money. The kickoff times for Friday games involving distant rivals have been moved up to 4 p.m. to give players and their fans time to return home safely rather than spending a night in a motel. For a district like Greybull’s, an overnight stay in a motel for a football team can cost between $1,200 and $1,500.
Friday’s matchup between Big Piney and Greybull started at 4 p.m.
So, too, will the Sept. 29 home game between Greybull and Kemmerer.
Lyman is reciprocating, moving the start time of the Oct. 13 game with Greybull up to 2 p.m.
“It’s a small thing, but if we keep making these changes, hopefully the legislators will see that we are doing something, and that it’s not just business as usual,” said Tracy.
In other highlights from the Sept. 12 meeting:
- Maintenance Supervisor Joe Supervisor briefed the board on a busy summer of construction projects in the district.
- Principals shared their monthly reports and touched on the various accountability reports.
- The board also received reports from its transportation director, Bob Campos, and the director of special services, Lee Clucas.
- Scott McBride, the curriculum and grants director, discussed federal funding and a possible shift to standard referenced grading.
- Em Wilson was hired as the director of the spring play.
- The board authorized Supt. Barry Bryant to enter into a lease agreement with Big Horn Federal for a new school bus. Bryant said a lease is the preferred financing approach because the district will get reimbursed sooner by the state; if it were a straight purchase, the money would be returned to the district over the span of five years. Big Horn Federal offered the lowest interest rate, 1.47 percent, on the $149,900 lease.
- The board authorized the final payment to Tim Kershner Construction, which had the contract for the Buff Gym parking lot project. The project is primarily funded by state component funding, with the remaining coming from major maintenance.
- A town hall meeting is tentatively being planned for the night of the November school board meeting. Among the topics to be discussed is the district’s possible move toward standards based grading
- The board authorized the business manager to move funding in its capital reserve account into a one-year CD at Big Horn Federal. The maturity date is to be June 15, 2018. At the end of the last fiscal year, the district transferred about $1 million in unspent funds to the capital reserve account. The switch to the CD could generate up to $4,500 in interest for the district.
The board will evaluate each summer, when its budget particulars are known, whether to renew the CD or pull the money out for district needs.