MARQUETTE - Student safety was a hot topic at the Gwinn school board meeting Monday evening as the board discussed the dangers inherent in bus loading and unloading zones at its schools.
The problem has been receiving special attention at Gwinn High School, where Gwinn Area Community Schools Superintendent Kim Tufnell said many parents continue to ignore a rule that prohibits them from dropping their children off inside the loading and unloading zones when buses are present
The school has handed out parking passes to staff members who are allowed to use the lot. Anyone without a parking pass is not permitted to enter. Parents dropping their children off should use the parking lot on the opposite side of the school, Tufnell said.
A Gwinn High School student is shown exiting a bus this morning at the school. The Gwinn school board discussed a problem at the high school involving parents driving into the bus loading/unloading area to drop off their children. (Gwinn Area Community Schools photo)
The district has asked a noon-hour supervisor to spend the mornings checking cars for passes at the entrance and to turn away any car without one.
However, Tufnell said on days when the attendant is not there, people continue to drop their children off in the bus loading and unloading zones.
Several board members expressed bewilderment that this was an issue that needed attention, saying parents should be just as concerned about the safety of their children as the administration and the board are.
Board President Ron Libey said he found it "quite appalling" that the school was forced to pay for an employee to stand in the parking lot and turn away cars without parking passes.
"We have such a limited amount of money," Libey said. "But it's such a no-brainer."
Bus driver Kitty Anderson offered her story to the board, explaining how she was intimately aware of the dangers of bus unloading and loading zones.
Anderson said 15 years ago, her step-daughter was in a bus loading and unloading zone when a van caught her coat and dragged her 25 feet before stopping. She was 5 years old and would eventually need four surgeries to help her heal from her injuries.
Anderson said loading and unloading zones at schools are chaotic and it's easy to lose a child in the mix, especially if that child is in the blind spot of a bus, or darts out from between two buses as cars are going by.
"The school bus loading and unloading zone is the most dangerous place for our kids," Anderson said. "Those little kids trust us. They are not afraid of those buses at all. As a district, we are lucky - very, very lucky - that nothing like this has happened to us yet."
Anderson suggested posting signs at the entrance of each loading and unloading zone, explaining that other vehicles are prohibited during drop off and pick-up times.
Tufnell said the district would continue its efforts to educate parents on the dangers of dropping their kids off around the buses.
The board also briefly discussed its new public comment policy, which allows public comment at the beginning as well as the end of a meeting.
Board member Ron Lauren said he believed the board should continue to have two public comment periods at its meetings, to which the board agreed.
"It hasn't been a problem," Lauren said.
In other action, the board heard a report on a possible expansion of the health center located inside the high school, a report on possible updates or repairs to existing school facilities and unanimously approved its annual school inspection contract.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.