Longer school bus ride times possible for Iowa students

Senators give districts local control

(File photo) Students board school buses for the ride home in a parking lot on the College Community School District campus Tuesday, March 27, 2012, in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
(File photo) Students board school buses for the ride home in a parking lot on the College Community School District campus Tuesday, March 27, 2012, in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa school districts would have the flexibility with local approval to require students to spend 75 minutes or longer on a one-way daily bus ride to school under a bill approved by the Iowa Senate Tuesday.

Senate File 2137 would remove state rules that limit the one-way duration of a school bus ride to 60 minutes for children though the eighth grade and 75 minutes for high-school students. The bill would allow school bus rides up to 75 minutes or longer if local school boards notify parents at least 30 days in advance and hold two public hearings before voting to make the change.

“It doesn’t make sense for us to pretend we know better than they know,” said Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, chair of the Senate Education Committee, who noted the change was sought by education groups seeking local control.

Three Democrats joined 27 majority Republicans in voting for the bill after an amendment offered by Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland, to strike the extended ride time language was defeated on a party-line vote.

“I’m concerned about the health and safety of our school children, especially in our rural and small towns,” Hart said in pushing for a maximum one-way ride time of 75 minutes. “School districts have had to stretch their dollars and they create longer and longer bus rides. Making bus rides longer for our children and our grandchildren I feel is not a good solution to a problem that we’ve created.”

Backers said the current restrictions result in some districts needing to run additional routes.

They noted an example where a Greene County school that has “co-located” elementary and high school students would be able to eliminate two bus routes and save about $100,000 if school officials were allowed to add 15 minutes to the elementary transportation time and combine all students for a 75-minute bus trip.

The bill now goes to the Iowa House for consideration.

Also Tuesday, senators voted 48-0 to direct the state Board of Educational Examiners to adopt administrative rules to require anyone seeking to hold or renew a teaching license, certificate, authorization, or statement of recognition to first undergo one hour of training on suicide awareness and prevention.

“I think all of us probably have been touched by the suicide of a loved one or a family member of a friend in the past,” said Sen. Craig Johnson, R-Independence, who floor managed Senate File 2113. “We’re all left with the sting afterward and the questions of why.”

Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, said he hoped this session would be the year legislators take action on the bill.

“As an educator, I have had to face that empty desk after a loss of a student. It’s the most horrific thing you can imagine,” said Bowman, a high school teacher.

Sen. Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, said she supported the measure but questioned whether one hour of training was enough, adding “don’t pat yourself too hard on the back over one hour.” Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, called for Iowans to be more inclusive and welcoming given that many of the students likely to kill themselves are in groups that are “marginalized.”

In other action, senators voted 48-0 to approve a bill (S.F. 2177) to protect consumers from fees charged for security freezes when they are victims of identity theft or scams, and they decided on a 35-13 verdict to change the minimum standard of transparency of a motor vehicle’s front windshield and immediate side windows from 70 percent to 35 percent under provisions in S.F. 2037. Last fiscal year, there were 6,232 convictions for an excessively dark window or windshield, according to the Legislative Services Agency.

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