Hazardous Walking Conditions Criteria Jeopardizes Student Safety

The criteria described in Florida’s hazardous walking conditions statute is unrealistic, unreasonable, outdated, and it’s discouraging school districts from safeguarding their students against the genuinely dangerous conditions they encounter between their homes and school. The evidence is in the numbers and in the criteria itself.

In spite of the fact that Florida remains at the top of the list as the most dangerous state in the nation for pedestrians, the number of Florida students that school districts transported to school due to hazardous walking conditions decreased by nearly 12,000 students between the 2016-17 and 2018-19 school years. However, the number of students enrolled in Florida public schools during that period increased by more than 32,000 students.

Hillsborough County is home to Tampa, the most populous city in the most populous county in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area is the 9th most dangerous metropolitan area for pedestrians in the nation.

In 2016, the Hillsborough County School Board wanted to cut its budget by $130 million a year so it turned to the transportation department for part of that cut because it was transporting more than 13,000 ineligible students at a cost to the district of more than $7 million a year.

The transportation department told the school board that it could help by targeting ineligible riders who lived within 2 miles of school, approximately 7,500 students, they said.

But they didn’t cut the number of ineligible riders directly. Instead, they eliminated almost 7,600 state-funded students from their hazardous ridership rolls, apparently by making the determination that those students didn’t meet the state hazardous ridership criteria which made them ineligible for funded transportation service.

In its communication to parents, the district pinned the responsibility for the loss of student transportation service on the State of Florida and its hazardous walking conditions criteria.

In the fall of 2019, the Hillsborough County School District joined the call to overhaul Florida’s hazardous walking conditions statute which has not seen a substantive improvement in nearly half a century. Citing the fact that the current criteria forces school districts to redirect funds from classrooms in order to provide additional school bus routes for students, the district said it wanted the law to safeguard students who are left to contend with hazardous walking conditions.

It is time to overhaul the hazardous walking conditions statute.

To that end, we’re advocating for a bill that will provide for a common sense hazardous walking conditions criteria and also provide local school boards the discretion on how they’ll implement the criteria so they can balance their allocation of funds and other resources with a view to the conditions in their communities. A reasonable criteria and local control of the use of school district assets is what Florida and our students need right now to safeguard our most valuable asset.

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