The loss of one bus stop earlier this year spurred Warren County Public Schools to review all the division’s pick-up and drop-off spots.
Superintendent Christopher Ballenger reported to the School Board on Wednesday that he and other officials reviewed bus stops in the county after the system lost one of the locations.
The system lost its bus stop in Linden that serves the Apple Mountain Lake subdivision after the Board of Supervisors denied a rezoning that would put a Sheetz near the neighborhood. The landowner had allowed the school division to use part of the property for a bus stop. The developer’s plans for the Sheetz also includes a bus loop. But the landowner stopped allowing the system to use his property for a bus stop after the board denied the rezoning. Supervisors on Tuesday reversed course and voted in favor of the rezoning.
Ballenger did not mention the supervisors’ action as he spoke about efforts to review bus stops. The situation allowed the division to review not just the one stop but all the locations, he said. Ballenger and Director of Transportation Aaron Mitchell II traveled a bus route looking at the roads, blind corners and stops to find a potential alternative site. They saw sharp corners, narrow roads and lack of space for students to stand, among other problems, Ballenger said.
But law enforcement of private roads also can pose a challenge, Ballenger said. The Sheriff’s Office can only enforce two motor vehicle laws on private roads - driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and reckless driving, Ballenger said. The Sheriff’s Office cannot enforce on private property the Virginia laws that pertain to school bus safety, such as passing a stopped bus with its stop lights out or trespassing, he noted.
Administrators also researched the division’s liability should there be an incident involving a school bus on a private road.
“We wanted to make sure that, if we commit to something, are we going to be able to continue to maintain that,” Ballenger said.
Also, would the school division be responsible for repairing a private road damaged by buses traveling a route.
The superintendent recommended that bus routes not go through private subdivisions. Rather, buses should use roads maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
However, Mitchell and his department may consider using a private road under certain conditions, Ballenger said. The subdivision must comply with county ordinances and have a property owners association. Bus drivers do not have to use private subdivision roads in the event of hazards such as weather or road deterioration so as to not jeopardize student safety. Instead, drivers can pick up students at the subdivision entrance or other pre-arranged location. Drivers can refuse to travel on roads not cleared of ice or snow during inclement weather, Ballenger said.
The superintendent also laid out a list of conditions meant to protect the school division and the property owners of a subdivision through which a bus might travel.
“By making sure ... roads meet certain specifications, then we know, and Mr. Mitchell would know that his buses are going to be fine, that they’re not gonna slide off a road and off into a ditch and go down a hill because, at this point, the road is narrower here than it is at the top,” Ballenger said.