Originally created 06/09/01

Advocate gets bus tribunal



The Columbia County Board of Education will grant Friends of Aleana member Greg Sakata's request for a formal tribunal hearing to address bus transportation issues.

When the tribunal is held, the board will be breaking new ground, because such hearings are generally reserved for employment disputes, said school board attorney William Fleming. The board is expected to set the date for the hearing at their regular meeting Tuesday night.

Mr. Sakata and other members of Friends - named after kindergartner Aleana Johnson, who was killed by her school bus in January - previously had petitioned the board for a tribunal hearing.

But the board said a hearing would be granted only for specific complaints brought by an individual.

Mr. Sakata lists three concerns in his request for a hearing:

The school system is not adhering to the requirements for safe stops.

The school bus stop at the corner of Highview Drive and Highview Way is at an intersection and less than 30 feet from a stop sign.

The school system is not adhering to the requirements for proper loading and unloading of school bus passengers.

Instead of a formal tribunal hearing, Mr. Fleming suggested the group take its case before the county's newly formed Safety Review Committee.

"I have no intention of bringing this issue before the safety committee," Mr. Sakata told the board at their most recent meeting. "Since the law allows a tribunal, this is my chosen course of action."

The Friends had asked the board for a tribunal hearing to address seven areas in which they believe the system is violating state law, primarily in the area of bus driver training.

Even though the board has agreed to grant Mr. Sakata's request for a tribunal, they will likely only address the three specific complaints he made in his petition, specific incidences of bus safety violations Mr. Sakata said he witnessed.

"You can't really have a hearing on something and say we'll fill in the blanks later," Mr. Fleming said. "What you are really asking for is a legal proceeding to go on, and ... no hearing can happen if you're not specific about the dates and times of events."

Mr. Sakata said he wanted to follow through with the tribunal so he would be in a position to appeal the local ruling to the state, if necessary.

Mr. Sakata said he did not believe Friends of Aleana could get a fair hearing if they went before the transportation committee.

"The committee is hand-selected by the school system," Mr. Sakata said.

Reach Melissa Hall at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 113, or melhall@augustachronicle.com.

Complaints

Specific complaints outlined in Mr. Sakata's request:

The school system is not adhering to the requirements for safe stops - the school bus stops at both 101 and 111 Highview Drive are within 300 feet of a curve in the same roadway, not allowing motorists the 300-foot distance required to see a stopped school bus.

The school bus stop at the corner of Highview Drive and Highview Way is at an intersection and less than 30 feet from a stop sign.

The school system is not adhering to the requirements for proper loading and unloading of passengers, including the use of appropriate warning systems. Mr. Sakata said that around May 3 he witnessed Bus 883 unloading children while failing to use its warning systems, which include amber warning lights, a folding stop sign and a crossing arm.