The first day of school always has kinks that need to be worked out, but the situation at Southside Elementary School demanded immediate attention: The flashing orange school-zone lights weren’t working on U.S. 41.
“Of course, the one school that kids have to cross multiple lanes of traffic on U.S. 41 and Webber Street (to reach) had lights that weren’t flashing,” said Sarasota Police Capt. Paul Sutton.
The Sarasota Police Department quickly responded with several squad cars, which flashed their lights as an alert, but the regular lights were repaired by 8 a.m., before the majority of students began arriving. No other major issues were reported.
“Officers parked in the medians, and we were urging motorists to slow down,” Sutton said.
At Gocio Elementary, in the northern part of the county, school district spokesman Scott Ferguson said students and staff were using bottled water instead of the drinking fountains because of an issue involving a private contractor. The water had to be turned off at the school, he said, but because it would be difficult for everyone to follow the standard “boil water” protocol, the bottled water would be available until Thursday, when the water safely could be consumed again from the fountains.
Elsewhere, Ashton Elementary School experienced a few problems Monday, according to Ferguson and Ellery Girard, director of transportation for the district.
Because the school had changed its drop-off and pick-up procedures, several parents complained, Ferguson said. However, he reported on Tuesday, “It went very smoothly today.”
Additionally, Girard said heavy rain Monday afternoon filled ditches where parents normally park to pick up their children after school.
“It was a little deeper than (parents) thought,” he said. One vehicle ended up in water over the hood, Girard said. “The tow truck got him out.”
Girard pointed out that traffic generally is heavier at schools the first few days, because parents of elementary children riding buses, are inclined to follow the buses just to make sure the youngsters arrive safely at their schools.
“Mothers are mothers,” he said. “It’s especially difficult to let that little one go.”
The only other problem Girard said his department had encountered by Tuesday morning was a broken air brake sensor on a bus that runs North County routes. Fortunately, he said, that bus completed its two routes Monday morning before the problem appeared.
“It was about a $15 fix,” he said. The bus was back on the route Tuesday.
Ferguson also pointed out that the district has 228 fewer bus stops this year, though its total, which is close to 5,000, is still well within state limits.
“We’re trying to serve as many students as best we can with fewer stops,” he added.
The reduction in bus stops was necessitated by budget cutbacks, he added.
With both the Sarasota Police Department and Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office vigorously patrolling school zones Monday to remind motorists to slow down, both departments were issuing citations.
The Sarasota Police Department issued 60 citations for the first three days of school.
“We have strict enforcement of the traffic regulations in school zones because we want to keep kids safe,” Sutton said of the police department.
School’s back in session
Both the city of Sarasota Police Department and Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office are reminding drivers they must stop for all school buses when the bus stop signs are out and lights are flashing, even if the bus is on the opposing side of the street.
The one exception to that rule is if the bus is on the opposite side of the street and a median at least 4 feet wide divides the road.
Sheriff’s deputies will be issuing the following fines for any driver who does not obey the law in a school zone.
• Failure to stop for a school bus, $271.
• 1 to 9 mph over the speed limit, $156.
• 10 to 14 mph over the speed limit, $306.
• 15 to 19 mph over the speed limit, $406.
• 20 to 29 mph over the speed limit, $456.
• More than 30 mph over the speed limit results in a mandatory court appearance.
• Passing a school bus on the exit side results in a mandatory court appearance.
The fines within the city limits are different. They include:
• Speeding in a school zone, up to $288 and mandatory court appearance.
• Passing a stopped school bus, $206.
• Running a red light or stop sign in a school zone, $271.
Police officers will not issue any warnings for violations that endanger school children.