March 3 — 2:09 pm, 2004

Field trips on, bus safety to be addressed

A decision made by District officials to cancel class trips involving buses for all preschool students surprised many early childhood educators last December.

Officials made this decision after to learning the District was violating new federal and state laws that govern what child restraints are required when school districts transport preschoolers, forcing the District to navigate through a maze of "conflicting interpretations" of these government regulations.

But a federal reprieve issued in mid-January extended the deadline for school districts to comply with its transportation safety requirements for students in the federally funded Head Start program until June 21, prompting local officials to reinstate class trips for preschoolers.

Tamar Magdovitz, a teacher at the Shawmont Parent Co-op Nursery, said she is glad that she will be able to go ahead with the three field trips scheduled for her class of four- and five-year-old students this March.

"Trips are a critical part of the pre-K program because they provide children with direct experience," she said. "Young children learn through hands-on activity."

But Magdovitz, concerned about the safety of her students as well, says she hopes the District will be able to meet the requirements of the law by the new deadline.

"There’s still the question of ‘what is going to happen after June 21st?’" she said.

Early childhood education officials maintain the extended deadline will provide enough time for the District to meet all the necessary requirements.

"We now have several months to prepare, so that we can secure funding to purchase the necessary equipment that will put us in full compliance," said early childhood chief administrator Donna Piekarski in a February letter to preschool parents that announced the reinstatement of class trips.

But despite the difficulties some school districts say they face in meeting the law’s requirements, establishing national rules that regulate the use of child restraints while under school supervision is long overdue, said Stephanie Tombrello, executive director of the California-based advocacy organization SafetyBeltSafe USA.

"[The regulations are] finally confronting the issue of how kids are transported," she said, urging school districts to do more to educate parents about child passenger safety.

To learn more, visit SafetyBeltSafe USA at www.carseat.org.

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