School Bus Accidents in the News – Are Your Children Safe?

Three separate school bus accidents on Monday – in Indiana, Washington State, andOhio — have left a student and a bus driver dead, and scores of students injured, some critically.  The three crashes have fueled concerns about school bus safety.

In the Indiana accident, the bus was mangled when the driver hit an overpass without braking. In Washington, the bus rolled over after it veered off the road. In Ohio, the bus tipped and then rolled over onto its right side into a ditch.

None of the buses were equipped with passenger seatbelts, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not require in larger school buses. But those accidents have now renewed calls for passenger seat belts on all school buses.

Federal law requires seat belts on school buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds, but 80 percent of the nation’s school buses do not fall into this category. Six states – New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, Texas and Louisiana – have laws requiring seat belts on all school buses.  But just because seat belts are installed, doesn’t guarantee they will be used.

For example, New York leaves the decision of whether the seat belts will be used to local school boards.  On the contrary, the Texas law calls for disciplinary action against students who do not use them. California and Florida laws, while requiring seat belts in school buses, state that employees of school districts are not responsible for requiring students to buckle up.

The debate about seat belts on school buses has been going on for years. Despite increasingly strict requirements about helmets for bikers, seat and lap belts, and car and booster seats for children in passenger vehicles, school bus safety has not kept pace. In an ABC News interview, NHTSA spokesperson Lynda Tran said of school buses: “They are safer than their parents’ cars.” But Dr. Phyllis Agran, a pediatrician, told ABC that about 17,000 children are treated in emergency rooms each year from injuries sustained in school bus injuries.

Defenders of the status quo regarding school bus safety contend that statistics are on the side of the 24 million children who take a bus to school each day. But statistics fly out the window if it is your child who is involved in an accident.

Two of my three children were involved in school bus accidents and I have to tell you that although they were minor, it was a chilling experience to be notified that your child has been in a school bus accident. Parents have a right to expect that when they put their children on the school bus in the morning, they will get to and from school safely. They certainly don’t expect serious injuries or worse.

Seat belts have become a hot topic, but I can tell you as a former school administrator that they are not the only bus safety issues. Buses tend to be a “no man’s land” when it comes to supervision. It’s difficult for drivers to steer the bus while at the same time police kids’ behavior. Because there is no adult supervision on the bus other than the driver, school buses are fertile fields for bullying, profanity, fistfights, and other dangerous behavior, such as walking around while the bus is in motion and throwing things.

If the bus driver reports misbehavior to the school, it will be handled with an appropriate consequence. But not all bus drivers take the trouble to write a report. If your child tells you about misbehavior on the bus, take it seriously and report it to your principal or assistant principal. It’s not just annoying – it’s potentially dangerous. Be sure to inquire what steps the school takes to emphasize school bus safety. And make sure you reinforce them at home.

You may also inquire about the supervision of bus drivers.  If the school district owns a fleet of buses and the drivers are district employees, they are usually better screened, supervised, and monitored than if the district contracts with a private company for their buses and drivers. If you have reason to believe a bus driver is engaging in dangerous or suspicious behavior, be sure to report it to your school district immediately.

The following bus rules should be emphasized by the school and reinforced by you with your child at home.

  • 

Kids should go directly to their seats. They should remain seated and facing forward for the entire ride.
  • Children should speak quietly and make every effort not to distract the driver.
  • Students should not throw things on the bus or out the windows, or play with the emergency exits.
  • The aisles of the bus should be clear at all times. That means no walking around or placing objects that may cause someone to trip.
  • In an emergency, children must listen to the driver and follow instructions.
  • Students should never put head, arms or hands out of the window.
  • At their stop, children should wait for the bus to come to a complete stop before getting up. They should then walk, not run, to the front door and then exit using the handrail.

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/03/school-bus-crashes-raise-the-issue-of-seat-belts-and-bus-safety/


Teachers’ Holiday Gifts – What’s A Parent To Do?

`Tis the season and everywhere we look there are suggestions for gift giving.  No doubt on your list of recipients are your children’s teachers. Newspaper articles, TV spots, websites and blogs — not to mention catalogs — provide a potpourri of possibilities for teacher gifts. There’s a lot of pressure out there to give your children’s teachers the right gift. So what should that be?

You might want to start by examining your school’s policy on gifting. Some schools set a limit, e.g. $25, some don’t allow it at all, some specify one gift from the entire class, while others say nothing on the subject. Whatever your school’s policy, it’s likely to be ignored by at least some people. My experience has been that parents feel very pressured to give the teacher a gift she/he will appreciate, and worry that no gift could influence the teacher’s perception of their child.

Some parents go all out, while others begrudgingly do the minimum. I will never forget that when I was in first grade my teacher announced to us that Becky had given her the best gift in the class. She had been invited to Becky’s house for lunch and Becky’s father, a dress manufacturer, presented her with a beautiful dress. I remember that I and the other children felt powerless and unworthy as she opened our gifts. Throughout the year I understood implicitly why Becky was the teacher’s pet.

Those days may or may not be gone. There are still some parents who will lavish expensive gifts on teachers, causing others to be resentful. There are some parents who believe teachers don’t need “tips,” and others who simply can’t afford it in these difficult economic times.

Conversely, as a former teacher and administrator, I can safely say that most teachers don’t even want gifts. They truly appreciate a lovely note or card expressing appreciation, or perhaps even a homemade gift or gift card. But while receiving a truckload of extraneous gifts is flattering, they usually don’t know what to do with all the random stuff they get.

Case in point: one year I sent an email to all 1,000 teachers in our district asking for new items that we could use to put together gift baskets for the elderly in the community.  I was inundated with “stuff” — unwanted Christmas presents. We recycled the gifts, assembling beautiful baskets wrapped in cellophane and curling ribbon, and made a lot of people happy. It’s amazing how a potholder, dishtowel, and hand lotion can be made to look so good with the proper wrapping!

There are some schools that ask parents to refrain from giving teachers gifts and instead suggest they honor their teachers with a contribution to any number of worthwhile causes.  In this way, families can contribute what they are able to afford – or not at all if they are strapped – and the gift is from the entire class. Here are some ideas:

  • A gift card to a supermarket or department store for a needy family
  • A class collection of non-perishable food items for a local food pantry
  • Purchasing holiday gifts for a homeless family
  • Providing a holiday dinner for a needy family
  • A donation to a charity

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently suggested several humanitarian organizations, many of which would be appropriate as an educational exercise for students.

For example: donations to CARE can provide school uniforms; contributions to Heifer International provide gifts of livestock and training to help families improve their nutrition and generate income, and Helen Keller International’s ChildSight program screens children for vision problems and provides eyeglasses. 

Don’t forget your local charities; it’s meaningful for kids to know they are helping those close to home.

Even if it’s too late to change your school’s culture now, start a discussion now – and maybe things will change next year. Engaging parents and children in choosing the cause and bringing it to fruition will infuse both kids and adults with the true meaning of giving

Happy Holidays!

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/opinion/sunday/kristof-gifts-that-say-you-care.html?_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha212


School Closing vs. District Consolidation: Which is Better for Your Child’s Education?

North Shore, South Shore, all around Long Island there’s talk of school closings to save district’s money in these dire economic times.

Several school systems, including West Islip, North Bellmore, and Smithtown, have already put school-chopping proposals on the table.  And more are sure to follow in a weak economy with decreased state aid and a 2 percent budget cap on the horizon for 2012-2013.

Whenever school closings are proposed, parents get upset. For the most part, they are dedicated to their home schools and don’t want their children to be used as pawns in school-shuttering plans. They like their principals and their teachers and the familiarity of their neighborhood schools. But the financial burden is becoming almost insurmountable. So what are districts to do?

Martin R. Cantor, CPA, Ed.D, the director of The Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy

According to Martin R. Cantor, CPA, Ed.D, the director of The Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy, consolidation of Long Island’s school districts could save millions of dollars a year and would still preserve local control.

And just this week, New York State’s new education commissioner, Dr. John B. King, Jr., agreed with the idea for Long Island and Westchester.

Dr. Cantor, a former director of the Long Island Economic and Social Policy Institute at Dowling College, estimates that the 47 school districts in western Suffolk County could save $32 million a year by forming five town-wide systems.

Under his proposal, the merger of dozens of local districts would allow the elimination of the vast majority of school superintendents, business and personnel officials. And he would give principals the power to budget and hire. Although consolidation has been proposed many times in the past, Dr. Cantor believes the time may now be right if parents want to stop the trend of increased class sizes and reduced student services.

Dr. King, on the other hand, is in favor of a more sweeping countywide consolidation.

Dr. John B. King, Jr., New York State’s Education Commissioner

He points to county systems in similar suburbs, such as those in Maryland and Virginia, which have comfortable, well-educated residents.  

Merging districts has always been a political hot potato and no one expects school boards and central office administrators to voluntarily give up their power. Yet Dr. Cantor says he is trying to raise awareness that there is an alternative to the yearly decimation of educational programs and services.

By the way, Newsday this week supported the concept of consolidation. It sided with Cantor’s proposal for town-wide district consolidation, saying the commissioner’s proposal was too severe for Long Island. The paper noted the historical hardcore resistance to mergers on Long Island, citing Elwood’s failed attempt last year to find merger partners. But it says the state could offer incentives to make the idea more palatable.

It is up to parents to lead the charge if consolidation is to become a reality. As Newsday put it, “The solution lies in making parents understand that as times get hard and the recently passed tax cap kicks in, the only way to save beloved programs threatened by tight budgets is efficiency. Taxpayers who really want to see kids get the best in education and activities may have to let go of their dedication to tiny schools and tiny districts.

“As money gets tighter, things change. If the other choice is a drop-off in educational offerings, parents and taxpayers should demand that districts look hard at consolidation rather than fight it. Once they do, the process will be halfway home — and everyone will be closer to a more efficient and equitable way to educate our children.”

Dr. Cantor offers some reassurance to parents who are frightened by the prospect of consolidation by emphasizing that it “gives parents control of their local schools; children remain in the schools that the parents moved into the neighborhoods for. Parents will have more say in education because their local principals will be in charge of the budget and student achievement, not isolated administrators. Classes would remain smaller and teachers preserved.”

He added that the factors that would change with consolidation would not impact the students’ school experience but rather are “budget items that have no role in the children’s education; in fact it directs more school budget dollars to the classroom.”

And, Dr. Cantor stressed, “the plan preserves the neighborhood school. Children are not transported to other schools and districts. Nothing changes but better education at lower costs.”

I urge all parents to read Dr. Cantor’s consolidation plan on his website, www.martincantor.com. Click the publication link; the paper is at the bottom of the list.

Become familiar with all of the issues related to this topic. Deep cuts are on the horizon in all districts. Be informed, and decide for yourself what’s best for your children’s education!

 

NY schools chief eyes consolidation plan http://www.newsday.com/long-island/ny-schools-chief-eyes-consolidation-plan-1.3352428

Albany joins school-consolidation chorus http://www.newsday.com/opinion/albany-joins-school-consolidation-chorus-1.3354740

 

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Parent-Teacher Conferences – Do You Need A Bribe?

It’s the season for parent-teacher conferences and I urge every parent to embrace this opportunity to sit down with your children’s teachers, no matter if your kids are in kindergarten or high school. 

This is your opportunity to find out specifically how your children are doing, and generally what’s going on in their classrooms and in their schools. I have to admit I was a bit disheartened when I recently came across a NEA (National Education Association) article advising teachers of tactics that they might want to use to “lure” parents into attending parent-teacher conferences. I’d be interested in knowing whether you think the parents in your school need to be cajoled into meeting with their children’s teachers, or whether they understand communicating with them is one of the best things they can do to help their kids succeed.  

Among the strategies recommended in the article are student-led conferences, in which students actually prepare and participate in the conference. The article said that feedback on this type of conference was “overwhelmingly positive,” and that there is a growing trend to encourage parents to bring their children to conferences. Other teachers had students prepare and present Power Point presentations to show their parents what they were learning. This tactic reportedly ensured record attendance. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with involving students and giving them a chance to be present, but I’m not sure that quite fits the definition of a parent-teacher conference. It seems to me the parent-teacher conference is one of the few chances you get to sit down with your kid’s teacher — adult to adult — and discuss what’s best for your child. 

Then there were the “bribes” to entice parents to meet with the teachers. These included: extra credit for students whose parents showed up, personal invitations, raffle tickets, a dessert bar, and goody bags. Finally, it was reported that some teachers go on home visits to meet parents who cannot get to the school. 

It’s commendable that some teachers go to such lengths to accommodate parents, but I would think parents would prefer to see the teachers’ creative energies going instead to inspiring the students. 

The article didn’t mention adjusted hours for working parents, which should be pro forma nowadays in all schools and something that parents should insist upon. Similarly, if your work schedule does not allow you to get to school on a particular day, request an alternate date or a phone conference.  

Here are 7 tips for a successful parent-teacher conference:

  1. Come prepared with questions and take notes. Always ask how you can support your child’s learning at home.
  2. Don’t be passive. If you have a particular question or concern, don’t be afraid to bring it up. Be specific. 
  3. Discuss your child’s social and emotional development as well as academic performance. Be sure to let the teacher know if there is anything going on at home that may impact your child’s behavior and performance in school, such as divorce, illness in the family, or a new baby.
  4. If there is a problem, describe how it makes you or your child feel without being defensive or negative. Actively listen to what the teacher says. Come to an agreement about what is best for your child.
  5. Schedule follow-up meetings or telephone calls to be sure the plan is working.
  6. Find out how the teacher communicates with parents, e.g., online, newsletters, agendas, etc.
  7. If you are not satisfied with the conference, you may ask to meet with an administrator.  

Try This: The New Parent-Teacher Conference  

http://www.nea.org/home/40927.htm#.Tpiih8U_Alo.twitter


The Hidden Costs of Public Education

About 15 percent of American households were living in poverty last year and that number is increasing as the median household income drops, according to newly released statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

That means the official poverty rate has reached its highest level since 1993. That translates to a total of 46.2 million people – the largest number since the government began tracking poverty in the 1950s. And because the poverty level for a family of four begins with an annual income of less than $22,314, many experts believe that a family of four needs to make twice that to feel secure.

Unemployment is predicted to remain above 9 percent for the foreseeable future, and parents are increasingly concerned about expenses and inflation. In last May’s school budget vote, most districts mindful of taxpayers’ pocketbooks scaled back programs and cut staff to keep tax increases low.

But is public education really free? Just because parents pay taxes doesn’t mean they do not have to contribute to their children’s education. Here are some of the extras parents are typically paying for:

  • School Supplies: The average parent spent $600 this year equipping their children with back to school clothing and supplies. Most schools prepared lists of essential school supplies that parents were required to furnish. Depending on the grade of the student, these ranged from notebooks to laptops.
  • Tissues: To save district funds, many elementary schools ask parents to send in boxes of tissues and other supplies for use by the entire class.
  • School Spirit garments: T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, etc., are popular items at all levels.  Students may be asked to wear these for special events at school.
  • Musical instruments: purchase or rental
  • Sports equipment and uniforms
  • Field Trips
  • Fundraising: School, PTA, Special Interest, e.g. sports, music, theater.
  • Celebrations: birthdays, holidays, special events

What Can Parents Do?

  • For back to school, PTAs can contract to provide boxed sets of school supplies by grade at a cost less than shopping for supplies on your own. The school will supply a list of school supplies by grade. For example, Staples does this through http://www.schoolkidz.com. Ask your PTA to investigate this money-saving option.
  • Parents can lobby the principal or superintendent of schools and request that fundraising activities be reduced and consolidated. Parents may prefer to write one check for a set amount instead of being compelled into participating in a perpetual round of sales and fundraisers.
  • If parents believe that the cost and incidence of field trips are excessive, parents have the right to question school’s field trip practices and ask that guidelines be established to limit frequency, distance, and cost per field trip, e.g. two per grade with a limit of $25. Also, parents should request that they be informed at the beginning of the school year of what their expenses will be for field trips.
  • Request that your school limit expectations for children’s birthdays at school.
  • Lobby to scale back spirit wear and unnecessary sports paraphernalia, such as sweatshirts and sweat pants. It’s hard to say no when everyone else is buying it and your child wants it too.
  • Volunteer with your presence and skills at school and at special events and fundraisers instead of with your pocketbook.
  • Parents should know that all schools provide help to families who cannot afford school-associated expenses. Don’t be afraid to ask your principal if you need financial assistance.

How Safe Are Our Schools?

At the time, I thought that I would always remember April 20, 1999, as the day then-First Lady Hillary Clinton visited the school district in which I was working.

I was one of the entourage who escorted her and her staff around the Village School in Syosset, L.I.

The school was packed with media because there were rumors Mrs. Clinton would soon announce she was running for the U.S. Senate from New York. When I got home from work, I settled in to watch what I expected would be wall-to-wall coverage of the visit.

Columbine Memorial, Littleton, Colorado: Photo by David Keyzer (CC)

But it was quickly pre-empted by the horrific news from Littleton, Colorado — the massacre of 12 students and one teacher by two student gunmen before they killed themselves at Columbine High School.

Ever since that day, our notions of school safety have changed. So this week when police sought four men in connection with a home invasion robbery in Bellmore, L.I., they ordered a lockdown of 27 schools in Bellmore, Merrick, Wantagh and Levittown as they pursued the men through residential neighborhoods. The lockdowns went on for hours before the suspects were all apprehended, but not before there was a shootout in front of the Lakeside Elementary School in Merrick.

Anxious parents were advised not to come to the schools and were assured that their children were safe. Although the specter of lockdowns evokes memories of Columbine and subsequent school shootings, it’s important to remember that schools are now required to have comprehensive safety plans.

I remember chairing a large Project SAVE Committee in 2000 when New York State first required districts to have very specific safety plans, which must be tweaked and improved each year. This week when the lockdowns occurred on Long Island’s South Shore, the affected districts used their Websites and automated phone messages to inform parents — tools that were not widely used or available 11 years ago.  

But how do you know about your child’s safety? Here are some questions you can ask:

  • How does your school communicate with parents in case of a lockdown or safety situation?
  • Does your school conduct lockdown drills with its staff? (There is mixed opinion on whether students should participate because it might frighten them.) Is all staff familiar with safety plans, and what to do if there is a threat to safety?
  • Do your district and school administrators have ongoing contact with their local police and fire departments?  
  • Do parents have access to reports that include information about the number of violent or other unsafe incidents at the school?
  • Does your school have ways to prevent as well as to respond to crises?
  • Are students taught conflict resolution skills?
  • How is school safety promoted in your school?
  • Are school facilities safe and free of hazards? 
  • Does your school or district have a Safety Committee?
  • Does your child know how to protect his or her personal safety and what to do if he or she is threatened?

It really does “take a village” – to borrow a line from Hillary Clinton — to ensure that our children are safe. Although schools are doing a much better job than they used to, there is always room for improvement. Board of education members, school and district administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents must always be vigilant and act as partners with one another to protect our students and schools. 


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