The next few weeks mark the beginning of the school year all across southwest Missouri. It’s an exciting time for students, parents and teachers as we say goodbye to summer and look forward to fall sports like football and volleyball and activities such as band and choir. Along with all this excitement comes changing schedules, more cars and buses on the roads, and more students walking to and from school. This time of the year is a great opportunity to remember some safety tips and ways to keep our kids out of harm’s way.

First off, with tens of thousands of students in the 29th Senate District and with mostly rural school districts, there will be a lot more buses on the road and more students waiting on and riding those buses. With large districts comes long bus rides. Many students will be riding the bus for an hour or more. It’s important for us to do our part and pay extra attention behind the wheel and to obey the rules of the road.

Traffic laws for drivers who run across buses are set out in Missouri law. All buses are equipped with flashing signals and a red stop sign that extends when the driver is picking up or dropping off children. On a two-way street, all drivers are required to stop when a bus is loading, or unloading, children. However, drivers are not required to stop on a divided highway with a median if they're driving in the opposite direction of the bus. Drivers also do not have to stop when driving in four lanes of traffic and traveling in the opposite direction of the bus. Drivers should wait until the bus has started moving again or until the bus driver signals them before continuing on the road. Illegally passing a bus is a Class A misdemeanor is Missouri and could result in a hefty fine and, possibly, a suspension of one’s license.

Drivers should also stay at least 12 feet back from children loading and unloading to keep them safe. Kids waiting for the bus should stay 12 feet back until the bus comes to a stop. Kids get on and exit the bus on the right side, so it is never safe to pass a school bus on the right side. Kids should not run and play while waiting on the bus and they should never speak to strangers at the bus stop or get into a car with a stranger. While on the bus, students should go directly to their seat and stay seated for the length of their ride. They should talk quietly so the driver can focus on his or her job, and they should never throw things on the bus or out the windows.

Safety at school is important, too. Students should report any suspicious activity or any strange or unknown individuals on school grounds to the proper school personnel. Students should also let school officials know of any threats or potential threats to students and teachers whether it is on school property or at a school-sponsored event. Bullying is a serious issue in our schools and students should take the initiative and report any bullying of themselves or fellow students. This includes physical bullying on school grounds but also cyberbullying or any threats made to students off school property. These types of threats can be reported to law enforcement as well.

School should be a fun and exciting time for all. Let’s make this school year a safe one and responsibility for that is something we all share. A safe school environment allows students to focus on learning and reaching their greatest potential. Let’s do our part as parents, teachers, and as a community to foster the best possible environment for our kids to grow and thrive.

As always, I welcome your ideas, questions and concerns. You may contact me at the State Capitol as follows: (573) 751-1480, david.sater@senate.mo.gov or by writing to Sen. David Sater, Missouri State Capitol, Room 416, Jefferson City, MO 65101.

God bless and thank you for the opportunity to work for you in the Missouri Senate.