Originally created 09/24/98

Van ban frustrates parents



Debby Balcer considers herself a safety-conscious parent.

Still, she thinks the Columbia County school system is too cautious when it comes to vans.

"I bought my minivan because it's safe," Mrs. Balcer said. "I looked for the safest things when I bought it."

On the advice of its attorney, the school board stopped transporting students by van last spring after accidents in other areas involving larger vans.

One accident on Interstate 20 involving a group of cheerleaders from the University of West Georgia ended in several fatalities.

Mrs. Balcer, whose children attend Lakeside High School and Blue Ridge Elementary, used to drive students to events in her minivan.

Her van, she said, is much safer than the larger vans -- which often are modified cargo vans.

Superintendent Tom Dohrmann said he understands the frustration.

The school system, he said, is hoping to get a legal opinion from the school board's attorney on the safety standards of small passenger vans.

"We are listening to the people," Dr. Dohrmann said. "But we want to do what's most responsible for the students of Columbia County. The students are the bottom line."

And in today's "litigious society," the school board must protect itself as well as students, he said.

When the board adopted its van policy, the system used four 15-passenger vans, Associate Superintendent Tommy Price said.

Though the local policy covers minivans, it does not cover other private vehicles. And parents still can drive their own children to events in minivans.

There also are procedures to ensure parents driving students to school-related events have good driving records, Mr. Price said.

About three weeks ago, the school system requested information from automobile manufacturers on minivan safety standards, Mr. Price said.

The information will be given to the school board's attorney when received.

But Mrs. Balcer said she doesn't understand the logic in allowing vehicles such as sport-utility vehicles or convertibles and not minivans.

"It's kind of frustrating," she said. "It's almost like they're saying parents don't have enough sense to know what's safe and what's not safe."