Within the span of a few recent days, Columbia County school officials heard another shoe drop in the potential wrongful-death lawsuit over a kindergartner killed by her bus a year ago, and local legislators headed into session in Atlanta with the intention to change laws regarding school buses.
Humming along in the background, meanwhile, is a grand jury probe into the transportation system with a report expected in March.
So what does all this mean for the average parent of a child in the Columbia County school system?
For one thing, it means school attorneys are spending time - and time, with lawyers, is money - preparing responses to legal challenges. It means transportation officials, barely keeping their heads above water with enough bus drivers to meet the countys needs, are under greater pressure than ever to maintain a clean safety record.
But what it doesnt mean is that Columbia Countys school bus system is unsafe, though attorneys representing the family of Aleana Johnson obviously believe at least one bus was unsafe the afternoon of Jan. 9, 2001, when the 5-year-old was killed.
Much of the coverage of the potential wrongful-death lawsuit from Aleanas family has focused on their attorneys correspondence with the school system suggesting the potential for a $3.1 million or greater judgement. School attorneys say a more likely payout is $500,000, the limit of the countys insurance policy.
To their credit, though, the Johnsons contend their push is not just for money, but for bus safety improvements throughout the state. I dont want this to happen to another child, Christy Johnson, Aleanas mother, said recently. It shouldnt have happened to mine.
As the attorneys trade paperwork, then, the Johnsons have worked with local lawmakers on legislation to tighten school bus regulations. A good portion of the bill focuses on driver training, says state Rep. Ben Harbin. Most of the rules are already state transportation policy, Harbin adds; the proposed legislation would write the policies into law.
While the proposal deserves passage, Columbia County officials dont expect it to change their operation because it already abides by those rules. Other bus systems in Georgia may not be as safe, however; for them, Aleanas Law could be the extra measure of prevention that keeps another child from meeting a tragic death.
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