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Bus safety still an issue in Lee County, parents hope for answers

Posted: 12:18 PM, Nov 12, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-14 12:16:01-05

PART ONE: FOLLOWING THE BAUER FAMILY

The ring of Bethany Bauer’s phone alarm let her know it was time to wake her kids up, and the clock for her day has officially started to tick away.

“5:45 a.m. is when nice mom goes in and says ‘ok it’s time to get up,” said Bethany.

James, Roseana, John, and Quinn–– Bethany’s youngest kids–– attend Cape Elementary School.

“The elementary schools start before the middle schools, and it’s the little little kids who are at the bus stop in the dark.”

Four of Bethany’s kids have a bus pick-up time at 6:24 a.m. and which is where her concerns start.

It was just this past March when a truck hit and killed 8-year-old Layla Aiken in Cape Coral. Reports showed it happened at 6:16 a.m. as she sat at her bus stop. In January, 12-year-old Alana Tamplin was killed when a car hit her as she was walking from her sister’s bus stop in North Fort Myers. Reports showed the time just after 7 a.m.

There are no sidewalks and limited lighting as you walk along the street near the Bauer family home. Parents within the county have voiced their concerns about these dangerous conditions.

"I will usually drive them up to the bus stop or walk up with them, but they’re not going on their own,” said Bethany.

The Bauer kids' school is about 4-and-a-half miles from their house, however, their bus ride is almost an hour long. Bethany said the kids will arrive at the elementary school around 7:20 a.m.

Bethany recalled a time when a car almost hit her oldest child–– Matthew–– as he tried to help one of his younger brothers when he fell running to the bus stop.

"A car came along 37th and they don’t have a stop sign there,” said Bethany. “It’s dark and the kids are hard to see–– they almost hit Matthew.”

At only 11-years-old, Matthew said he understood the situation could have been a lot worse.

“It worried me," said Matthew. “They kept going right on.”

Matthew attends Trafalgar Middle School in Cape Coral and his bus arrives at 9 a.m. His walk to the bus stop is brighter and there are less cars on the road.

As a parent, Bethany has a lot of questions surrounding safer bus stops and school start times.

“Perhaps we need something from the district because from the view of myself as a regular citizen–– it appears nothing has changed.”

PART TWO: BREAKING DOWN THE NUMBERS

Bus safety still an issue in Lee County, parents hope for answers

“I don’t think the day is too long, but by the time you factor in getting up for the early pick-up and hour long bus ride–– that’s 9 hours,” said Bethany Bauer.

Many parents within Lee County have voiced their frustrations with long bus rides. Fox 4 reached out to multiple school districts within the state to compare local bus ride times with their stats.

According to the district, Lee County has more than 75,000 eligible student bus riders and the average bus route takes 57 minutes.

In the Tampa area, the Hillsborough County school district is home to almost 90,000 student bus riders and the average bus route takes 25 minutes.

In Broward County, the school district has almost 97,000 student bus riders and the average bus route takes 20 minutes.

Fox 4 brought these numbers and concerns to school district leaders. School District Spokesman Rob Spicker said some relief for students and parents could be on the way, and it starts with shrinking the school choice zones.

“Right now you can pick between 12 and 16 schools and we want to get number now to about 5, 6, or 7,” said Spicker.

However, Spicker said the district has a lot of schools and a project like this will take time to roll out. At the time, he could not provide a timeline for when the rezoning project could start. Once implemented, he mentioned the shrinkage will help the district better review multiple current procedures.

“It’s going to allow us to shorten bus rides, look at start times, and allow us to do a top to bottom review of the process we have in place now.”

As the Bauer kids make it back home at the end of the day— Bethany said she just really hopes to see some changes from the school district.

“By and large–– I am happy with the school they’re in. I’m just not happy with how long it takes them to get there,” said Bethany.

(After shooting this story, Bethany Bauer reached out to Fox 4 and explained her youngest kids' pick-up time changed from 6:24 a.m. to 6:17 a.m.)