By Aileen Goldstein
More than 12,000 Beaufort County students will be catching their buses – which travel over 11,000 miles every school day – on Monday morning as they head back to school.
This year, however, some things have changed in the district’s transportation plans.
First, students who misbehave on school buses will face stricter punishments.
New rules state that students who commit Level II violations such as fighting or using profanity, will be kicked off the bus for the remainder of the school year.
Another change is the move away from a private company providing transportation in the district.
In April, the Beaufort County Board of Education voted to end the relationship with Durham School Services, a private sector transportation provider that served the county for the last six years.
According to Kerry Mayo, director of transportation, the decision for the district to take over control of transportation will save money.
The state allocates buses to school districts according to attendance numbers. Beaufort County uses 155 state buses. The previous transportation provider used 40 of its own buses in addition to the state buses.
The Beaufort County School District ordered 40 buses to replace those buses. The new buses have arrived and are currently being outfitted with radios and cameras and will be ready on the first day of school.
In addition, Mayo said many of Durham’s drivers were hired by the district to continue driving buses for the county.
Along with a new school opening this year, May River High in Bluffton, there are also new bell schedules for elementary students.
Elementary schools will be the first wave of the school day and will be beginning their day earlier than last year.
Mayo warns parents this will present different issues to be aware of as school starts and when the time changes in the fall.
“Elementary school children may be in the dark at bus stops,” Mayo said, “and parents should be aware of this as the time changes.”
The bell schedule changes may also affect after-school care for elementary students.
“Sometimes parents would have their middle school or high school student wait on the elementary student, and that is not going to happen now because the older students will still be in school while the elementary students are getting off the bus,” warns Mayo.
Mayo also stressed the importance of drivers being more aware as school buses are back on the roads transporting children to and from school.
“Buses are the safest mode of travel there is, but the loading and unloading is the most dangerous time for our students,” she said. “Make sure to stop well in advance when you see a bus about to stop with the flashing lights and stop signs out.”