A cadre of state officials — led by Georgia first lady Sandra Deal — stopped by Langston Chapel Elementary School on Tuesday morning to talk about school bus safety.
The campaign is called “Stop Means Stop,” and the focus is on emphasizing to drivers the importance of stopping when a school bus is stopped and has the red and yellow lights flashing and the stop sign extended.
While that might seem like a routine topic that students would learn in school anyway, Deal and the visitors want to shine a spotlight on it because of some disturbing statistics in Georgia in recent years — particularly, that Georgia has led the nation in school bus fatalities for the past two years and appears on track to maintain that dubious distinction.
“Last year, we lost a middle school student and a high school student who were struck and killed by motorists passing a stopped school bus,” said Carlton Allen, the state director of transportation for the Georgia Department of Education. “The national numbers will not be out until November, but I have a feeling that possibly for three years in a row, Georgia will have led the nation.”
Before the officials gathered in front of the school for a news conference — including a lectern painted to look like a school bus, complete with an extendable stop sign — Deal went inside and read to some students in the media center. She also emphasized the importance of students behaving properly and safely on the bus and at bus stops.
Speaking to reporters and others gathered outside, Deal said she hopes the children will become teachers for the adults driving them.
“We know that these children can insist that when their parents see a stop sign, that stop means stop,” she said while extending the school bus-style stop sign from the lectern. “So when that bus starts those lights flashing yellow and red, and when that arm goes out that says stop, we hope those children will yell out, ‘Stop! Stop!’ because it doesn’t matter if you’re following the bus or if you’re beside the bus, if that arm goes out, you must stop.”
She added that the requirement to stop applies for oncoming traffic, too, unless there is a physical separation — such as a grass median or concrete or metal barrier.
Deal chose Langston Chapel as one of her stops on a statewide school bus safety tour because of the Bulloch County school system’s bus safety program. On Tuesday morning, Langston Chapel students got lessons in bus safety in several forms as part of the district’s Sparky program.
Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson credited former Transportation Director Cathy Dixon with starting the safety program and current director Paul Webb with continuing and refining it.
One of the presentations for Langston Chapel students was a puppet show in the cafeteria. Bus driver Norma Carter asked questions of the students and two puppets posing as students on the bus, played by fellow bus drivers Shamika Braziel and Frances Thompson. The puppets, named “Sam” and “Sally,” sometimes had trouble answering the bus safety questions correctly, prompting shouts of “No” from the assembled students.
The students and Carter reviewed such things as children being at the bus stop five minutes before they are scheduled to be picked up, not running after a bus if it leaves before they get there, and staying seated and using “inside” voices in the bus.
Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.