KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — It’s a ritual that begins the school day for roughly half of the 48,000 children attending Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe: Get up before the birds sing, head for the bus stop and hitch a ride to class.

School bus service in Europe is different than in the United States in many key ways, though. For one thing, the buses aren’t yellow. More importantly, however, is that traffic is not required to stop for loading and unloading school buses in Europe.

Such safety issues are on the top of DODDS officials’ agenda as the school year approaches, said Mike St. Clair, student transportation officer for DODDS-Europe.

Generally, about 30 percent of the DODDS-Europe school population is new to this continent each year, St. Clair said.

Schools will give every pupil bus safety training between Sept. 8 and 19. The schools will periodically review the rules throughout the year.

“It’s serious business for the new kids as well as the returning kids because we’ve got to get their attention again and hammer home the safety message again,” St. Clair said.

The overall responsibility to enforce the training, however, sits squarely on the parents’ shoulders, he said.

For example, last year there were eight accidents that resulted in children being injured, usually struck by a vehicle when they were going to or leaving a bus stop. Five of the eight accidents were caused by parents who neglected to follow the basic safety rules.

DODDS officials say parents must wait at the stop for the child and escort him to the family car or on the walk home, rather than risk the chance that the child hops off the bus and sprints across a street to a parent waiting in a vehicle.

Here are some basic facts about DODDS-Europe busing that will help parents and kids stay safe in the 2003-2004 school year:

• After registering the child in school, parents must take their children to the school transportation office to register for transportation. They will receive a mandatory bus pass and information on route stops and schedules, safety, behavior standards and discipline rules.• The location of family quarters, not the sponsor’s place of duty or work, determines which school the children attend and their eligibility for transportation.• Distance to the assigned school determines whether pupils will ride the bus, walk or need other transportation. The standard for bus transportation of elementary school children is more than one mile from school, and for secondary school children more than 1.5 miles from school.• Children enrolled in prekindergarten and Sure-Start programs and those with an Individual Education Program may receive specialized transportation services.• DODDS does not own buses or employ drivers, but has contracts with host-nation commercial companies for those services.• Buses are European-style tourist or city transit coaches marked with the international school bus sign.• Drivers are not required to speak English. Buses are equipped with two-way communications, such as a radio or cell phone, linking drivers to the contractor’s central control desk.• Drivers are not required to enforce good order and discipline on the bus. Parents are responsible for their children’s behavior on the bus.• Because a child’s misbehavior can interfere with the safe operation of the bus, disciplinary action can be taken, including temporary suspension or permanent revocation.

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