Boy's death inspires request for school bus measure STATE HOUSE REPORT


Eleven-year-old Joey Vinci died before dawn on Jan. 28 trying to cross Old York Road in White Hall to get to his school bus stop on the other side.

Yesterday, his parents asked lawmakers in Annapolis to enact legislation requiring school systems in Maryland to reroute their buses so that no child would have to cross a 50 mph highway in darkness to reach a stop.

"Children should not have to die to get their education," said Joey's father, John Vinci.

But the bill, filed by Sen. F. Vernon Boozer, R-Baltimore County, drew unanimous opposition from school transportation officials across the state. They said it would mean more bus stops, longer rides and more money -- $29 million by one estimate.

"We as a school system cannot accept additional mandates without additional money," Superintendent James Lupis Jr., of Kent County schools, said.

In sometimes tearful testimony before the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, neighbors and relatives of the Vincis said they turned to Annapolis because they were frustrated by what seemed to be a slow, callous response from Baltimore County school officials.

In prepared testimony, Mr. Boozer told the committee that "to continue to expect young children to negotiate high-speed road crossings or cross roads in the dark is to court tragedy."

He has actually filed two similar bills -- one that affects only Baltimore County and one that would affect the entire state.

Committee members asked why it wasn't enough for children to nTC cross the street under the protection of their school bus' flashing red lights, which require all traffic to stop. They were told that Baltimore County and Baltimore City are the only subdivisions in Maryland that do not follow this safety practice.

Baltimore City prohibits school buses from using their red flashers and motorists may pass a loading or unloading school bus.

But that presents a problem for Baltimore County, which surrounds the city on three sides. Motorists often don't know when they've crossed into the county and drive by loading buses.

"Youngsters are given a false sense of security when they see the lights, and they think they can cross safely," said Rita Fromm, the school transportation director. So the county decided in 1957 to require students to cross on their own, before the bus arrives in the morning, and after leaves in the afternoon.

"That does not mean that we dump students on any and all streets and ask them to cross on their own," she said. "The question we ask is whether we would ask a [student who walks to school] to cross on their own."

After Joey's death, she said, school bus officials asked parents in the neighborhood if they wanted their children to change buses to avoid crossing the street, and "only one parent took us up on it." Most declined because the switch would mean a longer bus ride.

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