For the first time in six years, state education leaders have directed county school boards to report how much time children spend on school buses.
The state Department of Education wants to determine how many students ride buses over state guidelines � no more than 30 minutes one-way for elementary school children, 45 minutes for middle school students and an hour for high school students.
State officials also plan to examine bus routes in rural counties to see whether some marathon bus rides could be shortened.
�We don�t want any children on the bus any longer than they have to be,� said state Transportation Director Wayne Clutter, who sent a memo about the bus time reporting requirement to the state�s 55 transportation directors last week.
State schools Superintendent David Stewart said the department plans to scrutinize school closing documents to ensure that future consolidations don�t force long bus rides on large numbers of children.
Stewart said he would permit rides longer than the recommended limits only if school leaders showed �good cause.� He declined to define those exemptions.
�The state board intends for counties to adhere to the guidelines,� Stewart said Friday. �They�re out there to be followed.�
Stewart plans to present his findings on student travel times to the state Board of Education later this year.
The Department of Education�s directive follows a special report published in the Aug. 25 Sunday Gazette-Mail.
The newspaper found that school administrators across the state repeatedly ignored transportation laws and guidelines, forcing thousands of West Virginia children to spend two hours or more a day on school buses.
More than half of all bus routes in rural West Virginia exceed state guidelines, according to the Gazette-Mail�s analysis of 1,500 bus runs.
The number of children who ride buses more than two hours each day doubled during the 1990s, even though 25,000 fewer students ride buses.
West Virginia church leaders plan to push state legislators to establish bus time limits. The West Virginia Council of Churches, made up of clergy from 14 denominations, plans to discuss the issue at an Oct. 25 meeting.
�The long bus rides are impairing children in terms of their personal health, their family life and their educational development,� said Jeff Allen, a United Methodist pastor who works for the church�s Community Development Outreach Ministries in Charleston.
�It has such a horrible, negative impact on kids. You can�t keep making the rides longer and longer.�
In recent years, legislators have balked at setting maximum bus times into law.