By JOHN McBRYDE
As schools in Franklin and Williamson County get started on the new year this week, students will be in navigation mode as they find their way to classrooms, lockers and the cafeteria.
And in the greater picture of back to school, there’s an even more critical mode of navigation — that is, the ones on the streets and highways and even in the school drop-off lanes as traffic patterns throughout the county go from summer breeze to the more challenging early days and weeks of the 2019-20 school year.
With the Franklin Special School District scheduled to start for a half-day Wednesday morning and Williamson County Schools launching Friday for a half-day, officials from both systems as well as law enforcement agencies are bracing not only for the additional vehicles on the road, but also the adjustments to route changes drivers will need to make.
“Transportation is the No. 1 challenge for the first day of school, just getting comfortable with traffic,” WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said. “The reality is our traffic patterns are very different from what they were in summer than when schools start on day one, so it does take some time for everyone to get comfortable with [the new traffic patterns].”
Bus drivers from both FSSD and WCS have gone through extensive training to earn the required CDL and P&S (passenger and school) endorsements, but some will be making their maiden voyage through the land of school traffic.
“We can have computer projections based on Geo mapping, but the reality is, until you actually drive it it’s hard to know,” Golden said.
Bo Alexander, transportation director for FSSD, said the district’s 30-plus bus drivers have just recently trained for a couple of days prior to the start of school.
“We touched on defensive driving, first aid and CPR,” he said. “We have a theme that is ‘safety first and schedule second,’ which means if you have to be a couple minutes late, that’s OK, but we’re never going to cut corners on the safety of the children we transport.”
Cutting corners is certainly not advisable for the average commuter attempting to get to the office or wherever else a morning trek might take them. Not in the eyes of law enforcement, according to Charles Warner, public information officer for the Franklin Police Department.
“Officers will be vigilant in designated school zones across the city,focusing on speeding drivers, improper passing and Tennessee’s law on cell phone use,” Warner said in a press release.
He pointed out that most of the children killed in bus-related crashes are pedestrians, 4 to 7 years old, who are hit by drivers illegally passing a stopped school bus.
“Franklin Police officers will be closely monitoring bus routes and citing drivers who disregard the flashing red lights and stop signs on school buses,” he said.
Motorists should expect slow-moving traffic in and around school zones. To avoid being late to your destination, you should leave earlier than usual. Parents are encouraged to talk with their children about safely crossing the street and walking through parking lots.”
Of course, both school districts will be on a regular full-day schedule next week, and kindergarteners will be entering the fray later in August and adding a new dimension.
“It’s going to take a couple of weeks for everything to settle down and get in a routine,” Alexander said. “We just urge everybody to be careful and show us a little patience as we get back to the grind.”