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Schools take steps for student safety ahead of busing changes

July 27, 2017

As students get ready to head back to class, Hillsborough County Public Schools is preparing for more kids to walk and bike to school. About 7,500 students within 2 miles from their school are no longer eligible for courtesy busing. School leaders are working to make sure every child has a safe path to get to school, and are asking the community to do its part by slowing down on the road.

At Randall Middle School in Lithia, Principal Claire Mawhinney and her staff rolled out new signs on Wednesday reading, "Watch out for our walkers and bikers."

"It's a big change for all of us. We're a large middle school. We have 1,400 kids. I still have about 900 kids who will have bus transportation. I have 469 that are losing the transportation, but this is a very proactive community, I know they're working on strategies. It's really a parent and family decision whether they allow their child to walk or ride a bike to school," Mawhinney said.

The school is also adding a new bike rack to accommodate more riders.

Hillsborough County Public Schools paid $15,000 for a 420-foot sidewalk extension leading up to the west side of the school. "We wanted to make sure that we had the sidewalks, so they were not crossing in front of parent car-line traffic, because I also have a lot of parents who bring their kids to school," Mawhinney said.

The students have three crosswalk options to use to safely cross Fishhawk Boulevard, because areas outside the campus are not under the contol of the school district. Mawhinney has asked Hillsborough County's Public Works Department to consider putting in a traffic signal at the school entrance.

"Last spring, we did a parent walk-around with my administrative staff, deputy and parents. A lot of the things they were concerned about were a county issue. Also in the spring, our PE teacher, she coordinated bike and pedestrian safety lessons for them. Those things have made me feel much more comfortable. A lot of it is just a family decision of talking with their kids and deciding whether or not they're ready to walk or ride a bike to school," said Mawhinney.

"How students get to school every single day is a challenge we embrace. The reality is we transport about 85,000 kids to school. The other 130,000 students find a different path to school," said Chris Farkas, Hillsborough County Public School's Chief Facilities Officer. He insists student safety is paramount. "Randall Middle School is a perfect example of the administration, community and PTA coming together to make sure that drivers around the school make it as safe as possible. We've seen banners today, we've seen the community plans to come out and embrace that, we put bike racks out here. We had an opportunity to put a sidewalk directly from the street to the school, which we don't have at every school, but in this case it worked out perfectly."

State statute requires a four-foot, flat-surface path for students to use on the route to school.

For more information about bus stops, bus routes, and alternative "Safe Routes to School," visit Transportation Services at: http://www.sdhc.k12.fl.us/departments/26/transportation/about/

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