TAMPA — When they return to school next month, students who live in the Meridian Pointe apartment complex on busy East Hillsborough Avenue will have an official bus stop, where they will be shuttled to and from Middleton High School.
The Hillsborough County school district doesn't usually place bus stops that close to a school — the complex is less than a mile away from Middleton. But in this case, it is making an exception.
District officials hope students who live in Meridian Pointe will opt to take the bus instead of jaywalking across the six-lane road, where two students have been struck and killed in the past three years and several others have been injured.
Per school board policy, students who have a safe route to school who live within two miles of campus do not receive transportation. Students who live in Meridian Pointe have the option to take a nearby crosswalk, but many don't use it.
“With the complex being midblock, it was too easy for them to walk across the road and not go down to the crosswalk,” district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said. “It was a safety issue.”
For the last six weeks of school, a shuttle transported students who live in the complex to and from Middleton after 15-year-old Norma Velasquez-Cabrera was killed crossing the road in March. Norma's 14-year-old sister was also struck and injured.
Another student was killed there in October 2011.
Out of the 24 students who live in Meridian Pointe, an average of 15 to 20 took the shuttle to school each day, Arja said.
The stop will be added to an existing bus route, Arja said. The details, including what time students will be picked up and dropped off, are still being ironed out.
In the weeks leading up to the first day of school Aug. 19, district and Middleton officials will send messages to parents to let them know about the new bus stop.
School board member Doretha Edgecomb, whose district includes Middleton, said adding the stop is a smart move.
“This is the right thing to do,” she said. “It's our obligation to work with families. We don't need another death, another tragedy. It's a life-changing experience for all of us.”
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Transportation is conducting a study of Hillsborough Avenue to see what other improvements can be made.
“We'll stay in contact with them,” Arja said. “The bus stop will be in place until the improvements are made to Hillsborough Avenue. Once the improvements are made, we'll re-evaluate it.”