School and Bus Safety

Several years ago when I was working in another county a little boy was run over by a school bus.  It was a tragic accident.  One that I will never forget.  Law enforcement concluded that the little boy had dropped his hat underneath the bus and went to retrieve it.  The bus driver was distracted by other children and assumed the young boy had already crossed the road.  He had not crossed.  He was run over and killed.  Every rule and law that has been put into place regarding school crossings and buses is directly due to some real life tragedy.  School will soon be back in session.  We can all benefit from some back-to-school safety reminders, whether a student, a parent, a motorist or a pedestrian.

Have a family discussion on the rules for being safe while loading, riding and exiting the school bus, and how to safely walk to school – consider this your “back-to-school homework.”  Parents, talk to your teen drivers about a motorist’s responsibility to pay attention to school bus traffic and the “danger zone” – it will be a good reminder for them, and for you.  More children are killed outside of a school bus than are killed as bus occupants.  Motorists must anticipate children in a school bus “danger zone” — the area around a bus where most injuries and deaths occur.

Remind the drivers in your household that each is responsible to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians.  But even so, teach and remind your children on where they should wait for their bus, how to walk around the bus, and how to safely cross busy streets.  If both pedestrians and motorists are aware and attentive to their surroundings, we are all much safer!

With the new routine of a school year, our mornings are hectic.  While we are focused on readying backpacks, homework, and schedules for our children, we are easily distracted as drivers.  We are also often in a hurry!  And our kids, who are focused on their friends, their upcoming school day, or their afterschool plans, are easily distracted while walking to school or waiting at their bus stop.

We want everyone to make it to school safely.  Please share these reminders with your family.

Tips for children exiting the bus:

  • Even as they exit the bus, children should look both ways to be sure no cars are attempting to pass their bus.
  • After exiting the bus, children should take five “giant steps” out from the front of the bus, or until they can see the driver’s face; this ensures that the driver can see them walking in front of the bus, and allows the driver to signal to them when it is safe to cross.
  • Look left-right-left when coming to the edge of the bus to make sure traffic is stopped. And keep watching traffic when crossing.
  • Never walk behind the bus.
  • Tell the bus driver if you drop something near the bus.  A bus driver may not be able to see children attempting to retrieve such items.

Tips for Pedestrians:

  • Don’t count on drivers to pay attention — make eye contact with motorists. Be alert and check for vehicles even when walking in a crosswalk.
  • Be predictable — cross or enter streets where it’s legal to do so, at designated crossings and/or at street corners.
  • Use sidewalks.  Where no sidewalks are provided, it is usually safer to walk facing traffic.
  • Make it easy for drivers to see you — dress in light colors and wear reflective material. Carry a flashlight if it’s dark.
  • Use extra caution when crossing multiple-lane, higher speed streets.

Tips for Motorists:

  • Whether following or approaching a bus, stop at least 20 feet from the bus if it is displaying red flashing lights and/or an extended stop arm.
  • Red flashing lights on buses indicate students entering or exiting the bus.
  • Yellow flashing lights indicate a bus is preparing to stop. Slow down and prepare to stop and watch for children.
  • Alter your route or schedule to avoid heavily traveled bus routes.
  • Watch for school crossing patrols and pedestrians. Reduce speeds in and around school zones.
  • Watch and stop for pedestrians-especially around schools and colleges.  It’s the law to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, even if it’s not marked.  Stop far enough back so drivers in other lanes can also see the pedestrian.  Consider every corner as a crosswalk.
  • Pay attention.  Texting and driving is illegal.  Turn off your phone.  Limit distractions and focus on your driving and surroundings.

Anyone who is uncertain about a law or regulation relating to bus traffic in our area may contact the Stevens County Attorneys Office at 320-208-6590.  Stay safe and have a great school year!



Dog Licenses

After law school I clerked for Judge Paul Nelson in Chippewa County.  He was a magnet for strange cases involving dogs.  At his retirement a few months ago I joked with him that he will now have time to finish his treatise on dog law.  Perhaps this blog post is my attempt to have a chapter or at least a footnote in his book.

At the Morris City Council meeting last night there was a brief discussion about the city switching to the Stevens County Humane Society to provide animal shelter services.  Afterward, the question was raised about how many dogs there are in Morris and how many are actually licensed.  Someone guestimated that there are thousands of dogs in the city, but only 40 or 50 are licensed every year.  According to the city ordinance, dog licenses must be renewed annually.  Obviously, compliance is not so good right now.

The city code requires all dogs six months of age or over to have a license from the city.  Licenses are $5 and may be obtained from the City Office, Veterinarian, or the Stevens County Human Society.  In order to get a license the dog must have an updated rabies immunization.  Having an unlicensed dog is a petty misdemeanor offense and subject to a $200 fine.

Why is this necessary? Health and safety.  Every licensed dog is given a tag that they must wear.  The tag has a number on it.  If law enforcement comes in contact with a loose dog, they can tell by the tag that the dog has been vaccinated for rabies.  It also makes it easy to get the dog back to its owner.  The police can call the number into the city office and they will have a copy of the license on file with an address and phone number for the owner.  The police call the owner and Sparky is happily reunited with his family.

What happens to an unlicensed dog that is found?  If it isn’t immediately apparent that the owner is in the vicinity the dog is taken to Human Society.  It is kept there for a minimum of five days.  If the owner claims the dog within five days the owner pays for a license, costs for boarding, and for vaccination of the dog .  The owner could be cited for a petty misdemeanor offense for having an unlicensed dog.  After five days the dog may be put up for adoption.  While grim to think about, eventually the dog may be euthanized if not adopted.

I encourage all dog owners to get a license for their pet and update it annually.  It costs less than a bag of dog food and ultimately benefits you and your neighbors.

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month.

What is it?  Teen dating violence is an act, or acts, that are abusive to one or both of the parties involved in a teen relationship.  There are several forms of abuse that can occur: physical, emotional, sexual, behavioral, and economical.

Why does it matter?  Teen dating violence is increasingly becoming a problem.  It happens every day, and often goes unreported. It is something that needs to be stopped.  Often times there are huge psychological costs associated with teen dating violence for the involved victims.

Who does it affect?   The teens involved in the dating relationship are obviously directly affected by the teen violence.  Indirectly, parents, counselors, friends, family, and even potential future children all feel the effects of such violence.

How can you recognize it?  There are several indicators that a teen may be prone to  or is currently experiencing relationship violence.  First and foremost, irrational outbursts from a suspected abuser should be a warning sign for potential violence in a teen relationship.  If a teen feels perpetually threatened, humiliated, criticized, powerless, dominated, manipulated, victimized, unworthy, or abused, the relationship may tend to be more unstable and more susceptible to violence.  Sometimes, physical marks may be visible indicators of dating violence.  If you notice the teen is skipping classes, has changes in mood or personality, is unusually indecisive, grades are falling, using drugs or alcohol, emotional outbursts or seems to be isolated, these can all be signs of abuse.  Unfortunately, it can be very difficult for a victim to initiate getting help with dating violence.  As such, it is sometimes difficult to detect teen dating violence.  Nonetheless, identifying a potentially violent relationship in the early stages can help avoid any harm to the teen and the people that care about them.

Advice to Adults:  If a teen comes to you and expresses that they may have been abused, first and foremost, show your support for them.  Tell them that you’re concerned for their safety, ask them if they would like to talk about it, tell them that they are not alone and it’s not their fault.  Understand that when it comes to an abused teenager or abused person in general that their self-esteem has been gradually worn down.  They may fear retaliation for reporting the abuse.  They feel alone.  Morever, and confusing and frustrating to those who care about them–they may still care deeply for their abuser and continue to hope that the relationship will improve.  For parents, you may need help to appropriately address the situation.  School guidance counselors, victim support organizations, and mental health professionals are all potential resources.

Advice to Teens Experiencing Dating Violence:  Get help.  Talk to a favorite teacher, coach, guidance counselor, religious leader, parents, or any trusted adult to see if any solutions can be reached.  Some situations can be handled simply with adult intervention or an adult helping the teen work through the situation.  Others may require the assistance of mental health professionals or law enforcement.  In certain circumstances a Harrassment Restraining Order or Order for Protection from a Judge may be needed to prevent the abuser from continuing to contact the teen victim.  If you or someone you know would like to talk to a victim services specialist please call Someplace Safe in Morris, 320-589-3208 or the Crisis Line at 1-800-974-3359.  For more information on teen dating violence and relationship violence in general, go to