The Mandate for Safe Access to Compulsory Public Education

As the Florida legislature begins its 2020 session, House Bill 1043 is making its way through the legislative process. The bill is designed to fix section 1006.23 of the Florida statutes which describes the criteria for determining when walking conditions are hazardous for students, and it provides transportation service eligibility for students who encounter those conditions.

At the heart of the need to provide safe access to public education is Article IX of the Florida Constitution which requires students to have safe public education because “The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida,” and it is “a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.”

Then, Florida statutes extend the mandate for safe education to include safe access to education by requiring district school boards to provide transportation service for students when “transportation is necessary to provide adequate educational facilities and opportunities which otherwise would not be available.”

In defining conditions that would pose barriers to educational facilities and opportunities, the statute says that 2 miles is too far for children to walk to school and requires district school boards to provide transportation service for students accordingly. Under the same premise, the law also requires transportation service for students who live within walking distance of school who would encounter hazardous walking conditions that would keep them from walking safely to and from school.

The problem, however is that the criteria described in section 1006.23 does not provide a reasonable and sensible criteria for identifying those hazardous walking conditions. For instance, the statute states that:

  • Students don’t need to have room to walk on a road shoulder unless the traffic volume is greater than 180 vehicles per hour in each direction. That’s an average total of 1 vehicle every 10 seconds before the law considers it hazardous for a student to walk on the road or along a narrow strip off of the road.
  • Intersections that have traffic signals aren’t hazardous for students unless the traffic volume on the road exceeds 4,000 vehicles per hour, an average of more than 1 vehicle per second.
  • Intersections that don’t have traffic control signals aren’t considered hazardous for students unless the traffic volume on the road exceeds 360 vehicles per hour in each direction, an average total of 1 vehicle every 5 seconds.

Our position with respect to the improvement of the hazardous walking conditions statute is that (1) the law should do what it purports to do, and (2) it ought to meet the Constitutional and statutory requirement to provide safe access to public education.

What’s happening instead is that the statute is used in some school districts to justify the denial of transportation service for students who genuinely encounter hazardous walking conditions and it’s also used by some who are responsible for improving infrastructure to make the case that pedestrian facilities are adequate when, in reality, they aren’t.

The fact that each party shields itself from responsibility by pointing to the same inadequate Florida statute for guidance has had a regressive effect on student safety and infrastructure development in a state (Florida) that the National Complete Streets Coalition perennially identifies as the most dangerous state for pedestrians in the nation.

It’s time to change that.

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