It seems that each time the Legislature meets, the issue of school starting dates comes up. While many of us can certainly recall those times when school waited until after Labor Day, they are, apparently, irrevocably in the past! Schools are starting all around us, causing meaning that there are some habits we must change!
The proliferation of flashing yellow lights is one of the first signs of school for motorists. Hopefully viewing them is not immediately followed by the viewing of red and blue lights in the rear view mirror! School zones are active again, and after a summer of driving past at 30 miles an hour, 20 seems terribly slow! Mornings are hectic times any way, as people try to get to work and now to also get the children to school. Having to take the time to slow for a school zone seems inconvenient, until compared to the inconvenience of discussing a violation or accident with an officer! Remember that the children are not yet back into the “school habit”. Eager to visit with friends that they have not seen since May, they are likely to dart between cars, dash across streets, and engage in other reckless behavior without considering the cars going by. It is better to be late for work than to risk an accident. Take the time to slow down – and don’t forget that only cell phones with hands free devices may be used in these zones!
School busses are now added to the morning traffic pattern. No one likes to be behind one, any more than they like driving behind a semi or other big, blind vehicle. Unlike others of their size, however, school busses are protected by law from being passed except at certain times. Each bus carries a short explanation of Texas law on the back in the form of a warning. If the bus is stopped, that is, the red lights are blinking and, in many cases, a little “stop” sign is displayed, you may not legally pass it on either side of the road. This also applies to school busses stopped in school driveways or parking areas. There is something about school busses that seems to effect children in a manner similar to the ice cream truck. They run pell mell to it, without thought or caution. They are likely to dart out into the street without looking and without really caring about other cars – they are intent on getting onto the bus. In the afternoon, they are equally intent on getting home and going to play. As a motorist, be sure to stop when you see a halted bus, then wait to proceed until you can account for each child. The possible consequences of not following this law are serious; the lightest would be loss of a drivers’ license.
Several years ago, the legislature determined that our schools would be both weapon free and drug free zones. Any person carrying a weapon or illegal drub onto the premises is charged with a much more serious offense than a person committing the same offense elsewhere. They way that these laws were written, attending a school function such as a football or basketball game, requires being in the weapon and drug free zones. A person carrying an illegal knife (even a pocketknife with a loose clasp), handgun or club to a football game commits a felony, whether or not the weapon was used. The general interpretation of this law is that it does not require the conscious intent to carry an illegal weapon. The fact that a person placed the knife in his pocket, proceeded to enter school property, and the knife was illegal is enough to result in the person being charged with the offense. Children do not need to take knives, chains, or other weapons to school. Adults planning on attending functions at schools need to be aware of the items in their pockets or attached to their belts.
Many children go to school with medications. The majority of these medications require a prescription from a doctor, and are illegal for most people to possess. Each school has its own rules for handling these drugs, most seem to require that the child turn them in to the office to be returned to the child at the time and in the dosage required by the physician. Every year, however, some children get to school with their medications, and fail to turn them in to the proper authority. In many cases, the children then, for whatever reason, “share” their medications with classmates. While these young people are not the stereotypical street drug dealer, they are prosecuted under the same laws. They have given a drug or controlled substance to another person on school grounds – a very serious felony, whether or not the child was paid for the drug.
From what I have been told, the first week of school it seems that the teachers and officials are trying with all their ability to fill that new backpack with paper. Permission forms, information on extracurricular activities, information on items needed for particular classes – it is easy to simply glance, sign and move on. One item issued to children at this time, however, needs closer perusal. Each student is given a copy of the rules of the school. For most, these will never become an issue. For others, however, a failure to abide by them may signal the end of probation and a trip to a placement or the Texas Youth Commission. Ignorance of these rules is not an excuse for their breakage; read the book and go over it with your child.
The start of school is a sign for all of us. Halcyon days of summer are ended, and a period of heightened responsibility begins. It has been said that making adjustments keeps us flexible – time to bend!
Lisa Peterson is the County Attorney for Nolan County. Comments about this column may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org