Safety on the line: Local, state officials address school bus safety after Leverett family flags offenders

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 05-02-2023 6:48 PM

LEVERETT — Outraged by videos she described as “horrific,” state Rep. Natalie Blais joined state Sen. Jo Comerford at a family’s Leverett home on Tuesday afternoon to draw attention to the importance of school bus safety.

Wes and Audra Goscenski, who live on Long Plain Road (Route 63), previously submitted videos to police and government officials showing motorists speeding through the stoplights on their children’s school bus as it travels to and from Leverett Elementary School. These videos inspired the state legislators, as well as a group of school officials from Leverett and surrounding towns, to gather on the Goscenskis’ lawn to address the issue.

In her brief address, Blais, D-Deerfield, noted that there are 12 bills related to school bus safety currently before the Legislature. While the legislative process takes time, bringing motorists’ attention to the issue in the meantime is vital, Blais and others in attendance stressed.

“Right here … our children’s lives are being endangered every school day,” Wes Goscenski said, noting that this year, he’s already observed five instances in which a driver would “fly down this road” past the bus’ stop sign and red lights.

“The scariest one for me was one time, our daughter was getting off the bus. She started to proceed across the road and a vehicle passed between me and my daughter. My daughter and I were about 12 to 15 feet apart,” he recalled.

“It’s a huge issue because their safety is on the line and I don’t think I could live with myself if something happened to my little munchkins,” said Leverett and Amherst bus driver Jessica Dutra, who attended Tuesday’s conference.

“The fact that these cars were repeatedly ignoring these red lights as they were approaching the school buses really gave us a sense of urgency around this,” Blais said, expressing that the videos “really stuck with” her. “Maybe it’s not just about the legislation. Maybe it’s about raising awareness about the rules around school bus safety and what you’re required to do as a driver here in the commonwealth to obey those state laws and also protect our children.”

Under state law, “a person operating a motor vehicle or trackless trolley shall, except when approaching from the opposite direction on a divided highway, bring his vehicle or trackless trolley to a full stop before reaching said school bus and shall not thereafter proceed until the warning signals are deactivated.” Violations typically result in a $250 fine for the first offense. Additionally, the driver’s license is liable to revocation, which becomes mandatory upon a second conviction.

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Wes Goscenski said he’s observed the amount of violations “exponentially climbing” in recent years. Annie Foley Ruiz, principal at Leverett Elementary School, said that over the past two or three years, the school has had incidents reported by multiple families, “but as Wes and Audra mentioned, this is not a new issue.” Dutra attributes the recent escalation to a culture shift that has desensitized people to the well-being of others.

“It’s a ‘me, me, me’ culture now,” she said, arguing that “more and more people feel entitled.”

Dutra said she would like to see driver’s licenses revoked more consistently for those who violate the law. She reasoned that “a $250 fine is a drop in the bucket for some people.”

Comerford, D-Northampton, celebrated the opportunity to hear community voices.

“What happened today, I think, is actually really democracy at its best,” Comerford said. “A family calls our attention to this pressing issue, town officials also join us, school personnel and also members of the community join together, calling us to attend to not only what’s happening here, but of course, the statewide issues.”

“Our children have had their lives risked too many times,” Audra Goscenski said. “We want change.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.

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