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School district buckles down on safety laws

T-R PHOTO BY LANA BRADSTREAM Rex Kozak, transportation director for Marshalltown School District, shows how to use one of the booster seat belts already in one of the buses in the school district fleet. Any new bus the school district purchases needs to have regular seat belts installed.

Within the last week five drivers in Marshalltown have ran school bus stop signs, raising concerns for the safety of students getting on and off of the buses.

Marshalltown School District transportation director Rex Kozak said bus drivers are reporting violators on a daily basis.

“I think it’s distracted driving and people not knowing when to stop,” Kozak said. “Here in Marshalltown it is a big problem right now. I have written up so many in the last few weeks it is not funny. We need people to slow down and pay more attention to what is going on.”

Marshalltown Police Department Capt. Chris Jones confirmed the five driving violations which occurred from Oct. 7-10. He could not say how many times per day school bus stop signs are passed by but added he trusted Kozak’s judgement and shared his concern.

“I can’t say this is an overwhelming problem but it is concerning,” Jones said.

This camera mounted on the outside of a Marshalltown School District school bus can capture video of drivers who pass the stopped school bus.

One of the problems is that not all of the violations are reported to the police department. Kozak said drivers and school bus cameras capture as much relevant information about the violator as possible, but if it is not enough, nothing further can be done. Jones agreed, saying it is not a simple driving violation. The license plate number needs to be captured and there needs to be confirmation about who was driving.

Unlike speeding tickets or running a four-way stop sign, passing a stopped school bus is a violation of Kadyn’s Law and is a serious misdemeanor. The state law increases the penalties for the crime. The law was named after a 7-year-old Northwood boy, Kadyn Halverson, who was hit by a pickup while he was trying to get on a school bus in 2011.

Jones said the first violation of Kadyn’s Law will get someone a maximum penalty of $675 in fines and 30 days without a license. The second violation is a fine up to $1,875 and 90 days with no license and the third violation carries a 180-day suspension. The Times-Republican found two Marshall County court appearances since the beginning of October in which the allegation was passing a stopped school bus. Alexis Lopez appeared in court for the violation on Oct. 4 and Timothy Nichols appeared on Oct. 7.

Seat belts

Taking student safety into consideration on school buses is the new requirement of seat belts.

Marshalltown School District buses get ready to leave the Bus Barn on Monday to pick up the students gettting out of school.

Starting Oct. 2, all new buses purchased by school districts within the state of Iowa need to be equipped with seat belts. Kozak said the rate of school bus accidents resulting in injury or fatality is minimal, but that does not mean safety is not a priority. However the requirement will raise the price of new buses by at least $9,000 and will lower the maximum passenger capacity.

Kozak said if a bus could handle 77 kids without seat belts, it will be knocked down to a capacity of 52 with seat belts. He is planning on ordering some new buses with shoulder-lap seat belts for the beginning of the 2020-21 school year and is anticipating possible problems so extra parts are being ordered as well.

“If one of the shoulder mechanisms stops, the entire service of the bus is cut until it is fixed,” Kozak said. “So, that’s another maintenance thing. If we have to order parts then the bus will be out for a month, two months. We have to make sure we order extra parts so we can replace them quickly and keep the bus on the road.”

Marshalltown has 20 buses with some seat belts – primarily for younger children.

“They are booster-type seats for preschoolers,” he said.

The sign on the back of all Marshalltown School District buses does not deter all drivers from passing a stopped school bus. Between Oct. 7 and Oct. 10, the Marshalltown Police Department received reports of five people who passed a stopped school bus.

How quickly the children can be strapped in with the seat belts depends on each child, Kozak said. Ensuring all students are strapped in with seat belts will be a priority and Kozak said it will cut down on behavior problems on the bus. There might be an issue with the seat belts remain on, however.

“Parents will need to be engaged in what is going on with their child on the bus,” he said. “They have to be buckled in. Parents need to understand that if their child does not wear the seat belt, then they can’t ride the bus. They will also have to understand that it will take time to get all of the buses equipped with seat belts. It will be a period of two years before we have a fleet of buses with seat belts.”

Contact Lana Bradstream at 641-753-6611 or lbradstream@timesrepublican.com.