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Answer Line: Rules don't exactly say how many students to school bus seat

Sept. 27, 2017 at 11:21 p.m.

QUESTION: I've noticed one thing a lot of school districts do and somebody told me it's against Texas Department of Transportation rules: Kids sit three to a seat. That's fine for elementary schools. What happens when middle, junior high and high school students are sitting three to a seat? The third child is hanging out in the aisle. I've heard they're not supposed to block the aisle. Why do school systems let that happen? Why do school systems get away with that, when they know they're not supposed to be blocking the aisles?

ANSWER: I found that state and federal regulations don't specify how many students may sit on a bus or in a bus seat. Instead, they call for school bus operators to follow the bus manufacturer's design for bus capacity regarding how many children may ride on a school bus.

"The school bus manufacturers determine the maximum seating capacity of a school bus," information from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says. "The manufacturers use this number, which is based on sitting three small elementary school-age persons per typical 39-inch school bus seat, in the calculations for determining the gross vehicle weight rating and the number of emergency exits. School transportation providers generally determine the number of persons that they can safely fit into a school bus seat. Generally, they fit three smaller elementary school-age persons or two adult high school-age persons into a typical 39-inch school bus seat."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also recommends bus passengers be seated completely within the school bus seat while the bus is moving. Federal regulations do prohibit obstructing access to emergency exits on school buses, so that means students block the aisles by not sitting in the seat all the way.

I turned to a couple of local school districts for examples of how they address bus seating capacity. At Pine Tree, Transportation Director Jack Irvin said the district uses mostly 83-passenger buses.

"We target loads at 65 for primary through elementary school, 60 for middle school and junior high and 50 to 55 for some junior high/high school combined routes," he said.

At Longview ISD, Transportation Director Ray Miller said the district generally allows three students to a seat in elementary grades and two to a seat for secondary grades.

"Naturally, there may often be exceptions to this rule if you have larger-than-average elementary school students or smaller-than-average secondary school students," he said.

The Texas Department of Public Safety recommended that you take any problems you see with bus seating capacity to the school district involved.

Q: Can you tell us what's going on with the medical office development on the Fourth Street extension?

A: You should see building construction start next month, according to Marshal Hamilton, vice president of Scott Hamilton Custom Builders and principal for Huffman Builders East Texas, a commercial construction brand associated with Scott Hamilton Custom Builders.

Hamilton said that once the Fourth Street extension was completed, work started on the development site of what will be Village Square Medical Plaza, beginning with concrete and utilities.

"Our issue is, we were waiting on SWEPCO to put all their lines in so we could have power in place before we start construction," Hamilton said.

The project is branded under Huffman, a Plano company that has built more than 1,100 medical facilities with a residential style. The five buildings, totaling 40,000 square feet, will be similar to medical office styles seen in Frisco and Plano — "Very nice, very high-end," Hamilton said.

"They're not going to be regular old medical offices," he said. "When you come in, you'll feel at home."

— Answer Line appears Thursday and Saturday. Email questions to answerline@news-journal.com, leave a message at (903) 232-7208 or write to P.O. Box 1792, Longview, TX 75606.



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