CREATED Sep. 11, 2012 - UPDATED: Sep. 11, 2012
FORT MYERS - A committee tasked with evaluating nine controversial Lee County school bus stops found they are safe, despite parent concerns.
The task force - made up of local law enforcement, safety and transportation officials - evaluated nine controversial bus stops and found they were all safe.
"All nine bus stops observed by the committee meet and exceed safety standards," said district chief operating officer Alberto Rodriguez.
"It's insane, it's dangerous, it's ridiculous," countered Stoneybrook mother Cara Chazin. "There's cars flying by."
Chazin wants her daughter's bus stop changed. She was one of more than a dozen parents who spoke out at Tuesday's school board meeting urging the board to allow buses back inside gated communities permanently.
"They're punishing us for being inside a gate," said Chazin.
The district's own policy, which is being followed this year but has long been ignored, doesn't allow buses to go inside gated communities. After a transportation safety audit found the district could save money and reduce long bus rides by consolidating stops, the district moved stops out of gated communities this year and onto main roads.
While the district is following its own policy some parents say its at the expense of their kids who now have to wait for the bus alongside busy roads, like Daniels Parkway, which they say has no lights and is dangerous.
After parents complained to Fox 4 the district temporarily allowed buses back inside gated communities.
Despite the findings of the committee, which included Cape Coral Police Chief Jay Murphy, Fort Myers Police Chief Doug Baker and Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott, the board voted to reevaluate the stops again along with their policy on not allowing buses inside gated communities.
"We got a report from a group of professionals about their respected view of the safety," said Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke. "That may not be the whole picture."
It was a picture 30 parents tried to paint for the board last month. More than a dozen parents spoke up Tuesday.
The parents, from different gated communities, wore the same yellow T-shirt saying "Our most precious cargo, children" to show unity.
"One day four cars raced by the stopped bus," said one parent fighting back tears. "I would grab my kids' hands and huddle them together and run to get on and off the bus."
In a 5-0 vote, the board agreed to:
- Reevaluate the distric's policy on not allowing buses inside gated communities
- Meet with representatives from each gated community's homeowners association
- Reevaluate the bus stops
Chazin says board members are dragging their feet by continuing to study the issue instead of putting forward a permanent solution.
"I feel like this is just a way to drag out everything and keep us pacified for now," said Chazin. "But I am hopeful. We're not giving up."
Until the board can come up with a solution buses will still be allowed inside gated communities.
The evaluation process could take "several months," according to a school district spokesperson.