The beginning of the new school year means the start of Operation Bluebird in Alachua County. Operation Bluebird, a program the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office initiates every school year to educate and enforce school bus safety laws, begins the week of Oct. 20.
Seventy citations were issued to drivers in Alachua County who did not stop for stopped school buses in 2013, 47 in 2014 and 37 in 2015. As of 2016, nine citations have already been issued, according to the Alachua County Clerk of Court.
“One incident is too many when it comes to passing a stopped school bus,” said Art Forgey, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
The sheriff’s office launched a social media campaign in August, before the first week of school, to remind residents to watch out for children and stopped school buses.
Social media and school resource deputies will educate drivers on the proper way to approach stopped school buses, said Forgey.
Public schools will also take an active role in educating the public about when they must stop for school buses, said Jackie Johnson, spokeswoman for Alachua County Public Schools.
The school district provided students with calendars containing information about school bus safety.
“It’s sponsored by the sheriff’s office and [the calendar] includes very specific information on what to do when you see a stopped school bus,” Johnson said.
Florida State Statute 316.172 states that when a school bus stops and turns on its flashing lights and extends its signs, motorists must also stop unless there is an unpaved median of at least five feet, a raised median or a physical barrier separating the vehicle from the stopped school bus.
“In general, everyone should always be aware of our kids,” said Kelly Armstrong, principal of Glen Springs Elementary School and parent of a fifth grader who rides a bus. “One little mistake, one careless act can really change your life and, of course, that family’s life, that child’s life.”
Bus drivers will also report any problems during their routes, and law enforcement will then set up patrols at problem areas to catch those not following school bus safety laws, Johnson said.
Operation Bluebird will run from Oct. 20 to Oct. 24, coinciding with National School Bus Safety Week. The Sheriff’s Office will partner with Gainesville Police Department, Alachua Police Department, Florida Highway Patrol and High Springs Police Department to monitor school buses when they load and unload children throughout the county.
If people do not follow the school bus safety laws, the fine for passing a stopped school bus is $264 and $364 for passing the bus on the right side, plus a mandatory court appearance, according to the sheriff’s office.