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Old 08-27-2007, 06:13 PM   #1
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Parents want changes to school bus stop plan

GREENWOOD A bus route reorganization for elementary school students in this west Caddo town was a nightmare for parents. The children's new bus stop was a registered sex offender's driveway.

Concerned mothers contacted the Caddo School Board, and the children got a new stop just down the road. Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator heralds their action and utilization of public information, but the parents are dissatisfied with the way the Caddo school system's transportation department operates.

The sheriff's and state police Web sites allow public access to sex offender registries. Users can see how close child molesters and rapists' home addresses are to any address they input.

"That's the perfect example of what you need to do for your kids," the sheriff said.

The program also allows users to enter an e-mail address to notify them when an offender moves close to the address they submitted.

"The good thing about the program is once you put the bus stop or the school or the baby sitter's address in it, you never have to enter that address again," Prator said. "We will notify you if someone moves into your neighborhood or near your school or bus stop."

One of the mothers who asked for the bus stop move said Caddo schools should utilize the sheriff's Internet tool.

"We can voice our opinion on whether or not our kids are being picked up in a safe location but, ultimately, it's their decision," she said. The Times withheld her identity at her request.

But 24,000 average riders and 7,000 to 8,000 daily stops would make that a difficult task, said Otis Jones, transportation director for Caddo schools. "It's totally impossible for us to keep track of all the sex offenders."

His department changes bus stops when parents notify him about nearby sex offenders. Protocol does not allow a child to have to walk past an offender's house to get to a bus stop.

A computer-aided system determines where bus stops are based on rider addresses, Jones said. The program keeps track of the number of stops a bus makes in an attempt to ensure students arrive at school on time.

That, the concerned parent said, is why the location her child boarded the bus last school year moved to a sex offender's driveway.

"If you're 15 minutes late to school but you save a kid's life, it's not going to matter," she said.

She simply wants her child to be able to load up where he used to. Now, she says, she can't see her child's bus stop from their home.

Changing locations may be inconvenient, but Jones said groups of students waiting together deters child predators. "The more people present, the less likely somebody is going to try something because there are too many witnesses."

The Greenwood parents have made one more move on their own to ensure their children's safety. A parent drives them to their neighborhood bus stop and waits for the bus to pick them up. She repeats the same when they come home.

"Anytime you can, it's best to have an adult (whom) you know wait with a group of kids," Prator said. "We understand there's times you can't. But, for sure, you can check the address to see if a sex offender is waiting nearby."

The concerned parents said they realize they haven't been ignored.

"It's kind of a wait-and-see deal," one said.

Caddo public schools: www.caddo.k12.la.us
Caddo sheriff's office sex offender search: http://www.icrimewatch.net/index.php?AgencyID=54078
State police sex offender registry: http://lasocpr1.lsp.org/
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