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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Sneezing 101: Sickness in Schools

Right before Thanksgiving, I caught a “head cold” from my husband. His cold went away after a week, but mine got worse. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or breathe through my nose. I finally went to the doctor, who determined from a blood test that I had developed a bacterial upper respiratory infection, which required an antibiotic. The experience took me back to my three boys’ childhood illnesses, including late night bouts with the croup when they were babies; we would turn on the hot shower and steam up the bathroom as per the doctor’s recommendation. It also brought me back to my own childhood sicknesses, when my mother made me feel cozy and safe as I recovered on the living room couch after the doctor gave me a penicillin shot for tonsillitis.

The experience started me thinking of the difficulty parents have nowadays when their kids get sick. With so many parents working outside the home, the question of when to keep a young child home from school is a challenging one.

It is probably better to err on the side of caution. My daughter-in-law recently asked me to babysit for my four-year-old grandson because he hadn’t slept well and was lethargic. That’s a good reason to keep a young child home from school. If a child does not feel well enough to comfortably participate in school activities, he is better off at home.

Most parents know not to send their children to school with fever or a contagious illness. Kids who are vomiting, wheezing, have diarrhea, a rash, or persistent cough do not belong in school. You do not want your child in a compromising and embarrassing position. In addition, she will be sharing her germs with others. No one appreciates that!

Schools are hotbeds of germs. It’s important for children to know to wash their hands often and to cover their mouths when they sneeze. Lately, schools are teaching students to sneeze into the crook of their elbows. The children in this kid-friendly Public Service Video from the Virginia Department of Health describe this method. (http://www.vdh.state.va.us/epidemiology/DiseasePrevention/H1N1/Video/PSAs/Sneezing101.htm)

School nurses encourage seasonal flu vaccinations to prevent flu epidemics in the schools. It is also highly recommended by doctors and nurses that children be vaccinated against communicable diseases. A number of these diseases, including whooping cough, are making a comeback in schools. They are highly dangerous and can be fatal. 

As we enter the flu season, encourage your child to exercise good hygiene and get plenty of sleep. Have a contingency plan for your work if your child is home sick. If you don’t, the school nurse is likely to call before the day is over asking you to take your child home. Better to be safe than sorry. Let your child get the loving care he is entitled to, and to quote my grandmother, “He will be a professor a day later.”


School Shorts – Food for Thought

With all of the attention focused on the Penn State scandal, three provocative education stories have gotten little attention. All of the issues below are worthy of an in-depth discussion. I’d love to hear your opinion on any or all of these. Please leave your comments on the bottom of the page or tweet me @DrMerylAin. 

Is Pizza a Vegetable – What Do You Think? 

Education Week recently reported that pizza with tomato sauce would be considered a vegetable in school lunch programs under changes proposed by Congress. The Agriculture Appropriations bill approved by a conference committee of House and Senate members would also make other changes to rules about what’s served in school lunch programs. In the Education Week piece by Nirvi Shah, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the following:

“At a time when child nutrition and childhood obesity are national health concerns, Congress should be supporting the U.S. Department of Agriculture and school efforts to serve healthier school meals, not undermining them. Together the school lunch riders in the agriculture spending bill will protect industry’s ability to keep pizza and French fries on school lunch trays.”

What do you think?

Is Pizza a Vegetable? In School Lunches, Congress Says Yes http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2011/11/pizza_would_be_a_vegetable_in.html

Are High School Lockers Obsolete? 

USA TODAY reported that a growing number of US high schools are eliminating lockers. Proponents of lockerless schools contend that new technology, such as iPads, are rendering the need for lockers obsolete. Supporters say removing lockers cuts down on noise and lateness, enhances school safety, and saves money. The Madison County, Mississippi School District saved $200,000 by going without lockers in its new high schools. Other schools are removing lockers from older buildings. 

Are lockers obsolete or do students still need them? 

Hall lockers? Some schools say no – http://USATODAY.com http://usat.ly/vI9KXu

Should Parents Go To Jail if Their Kids Skip School?

Parents in Halifax County, NC may be heading to jail if their children have poor school attendance. The Halifax County court system, three public school systems and county agencies have joined forces in a new initiative called the Tri-District Truancy Procedure to address student attendance issues. 

After more than six unexcused absences, a parent or guardian will be notified by mail that they may be in violation of the Compulsory Attendance Law and may be prosecuted if the absences cannot be justified under the school system’s attendance policy. In addition, after more than six unexcused absences, school personnel will work with the student and family to find out the cause of the absences to determine what should be done. If a student has 10 unexcused absences at the discretion of the school principal, the district attorney’s office may be notified in writing, along with the Department of Social Services. 

A criminal warrant for school attendance law violation against the parent or guardian will be secured, and the parent or guardian will have to attend a truancy hearing, which could result in a 120-day jail sentence. 

School and court officials indicated these new procedures would send a message to parents about their responsibility to make sure their children are in school. 

Is this the right message to send to parents? 

Courts to punish parents on school attendance issues http://www.rrdailyherald.com/news/courts-to-punish-parents-on-school-attendance-issues/article_da2ff198-0966-11e1-86d9-001cc4c002e0.html


Are Schools Getting Too Carried Away with Technology?

When my grandmother died in 1978 at almost 90, I thought the technological changes she had experienced in her lifetime would never be duplicated. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Technology is now changing at a dizzying pace, and parents and educators have to decide what’s best for our children. It’s a difficult conundrum with dueling points of view.

On one hand, most schools have embraced technology, spending huge amounts of money on upgrading electronic equipment that soon becomes obsolete. First it was the installation of computer labs, then the purchase of laptops, followed by i-Pads. I admit I drooled when Smart Boards were installed in a district in which I was working as a central office administrator. I secretly wished I could be a high school social studies teacher again, and with the touch of a finger take my students to sites that would propel great class discussions.

But technology should be taken just so far. What is the wisdom of turning cell phones into teaching tools in the classroom? Newsday reports that an Amityville social studies teacher recently asked his 11th graders to use their personal cell phones to text a response to a poll about a presidential speech they had just watched in the classroom. According to the article, this is part of a growing local and national trend.

Many other school districts, however, still bar students from bringing their cell phones and smart phones to school – and for good reason. They have been viewed as a distraction, even a dangerous one. Do we really want students checking their e-mail and texting during class? Do we want them using it to make dates during class, surf their favorite sites on the Web, cheat, or even engage in drug dealing? As much as schools will try to restrict its use in school, some students won’t be able to control themselves.

Even if you argue that most kids won’t engage in such nefarious behavior, whatever happened to raising your hand and having a discussion? Do our children have to be tethered to machines 24/7?

Apparently, some people in the computer industry don’t think so. A recent article in the New York Times pointed out that some of Silicon Valley’s technology leaders send their children to schools without computers! They think it’s easy enough to pick up computer skills, and that what’s really important is great teaching that actively engages kids in learning. Engagement is really the issue. Does technology foster engagement or inhibit it?

In addition, public schools have to consider the cost. Computers in education are here to stay but they need to be used judiciously — always with the goal of fostering student engagement and enabling critical and creative thinking.

If cell phones are now becoming the teaching tool du jour, then what do public schools do with the millions of dollars in computer equipment they bought? With built-in obsolescence, it’s critically important that schools don’t spend mindlessly on the latest cool gadget, only to abandon it for a better one a few years later.

Who is watching the technology store in our public school districts? Every year, superintendents and chief technology officers present a computer budget to the board of education and the public. As we go forward in this difficult economy, there needs to be accountability, research, evidence, and a rationale for future spending on electronic devices. Most of all, schools require a clear vision for how they plan on engaging students in learning – both with and without computers. 

http://www.newsday.com/long-island/educators-eye-cellphones-as-teaching-tools-1.3249660 

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/technology/at-waldorf-school-in-silicon-valley-technology-can-wait.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1


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