ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County schools open their doors today for the start of the 2014-15 school year, and local police agencies will be out in full force to ensure that students make it to class safely.
Schools start in Pasco, Polk, Manatee and other Bay area counties today as well. Hillsborough schools open Tuesday.
Pinellas elementary schools hold classes from 8:35 a.m. to 2:35 p.m., middle schools from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and high schools from 7:05 a.m. to 1:35 p.m.
Elementary schools that fell on the Florida Department of Education’s list of the lowest 300 schools in the state in terms of reading gains will be required to add an additional hour onto their school day so students can receive more reading instruction. Those schools include: Melrose, Fairmount Park, Maximo, Lakewood, Campbell Park, High Point, Sandy Lane, Ponce de Leon, Lealman Avenue, Woodlawn, Pinellas Park, Bear Creek, Windsor Charter, New Heights, Seventy-Fourth Street and Blanton.
City of Seminole Firefighters, Dunedin Fire Rescue, St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue, and many other first responders throughout the county will be positioned near local schools with fire engines and large signs urging drivers to be aware of children walking to and from school. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriesman, city council members and the St. Petersburg police will also join in the campaign at various spots throughout St. Petersburg. Sunstar ambulances and employees will also be stationed near Ridgecrest Elementary, at the intersection of Ridge Road and Ulmerton Road, and Anona Elementary, at the intersection of Indian Rocks Road and Anona Heights, to draw drivers’ attention. Students and their parents are welcome to climb through the ambulances parked at each site.
More than 150,000 students will travel to and from local schools this school year and thousands who live within a mile of their school will walk or bike there each day, according to an email from Missy MacFarlane with Sunstar Paramdeics. A 2012 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found 18 percent of cyclists injured in motor vehicle crashes are children under 14 years old.
Especially during students’ early morning commute times there can be limited visibility, said Superintendent Michael Grego.
“Traffic will be heavier, there will be these big yellow busses on the road, but I plead with people to leave a few minutes earlier, pay attention to your driving and be safe,” Grego said. “We have little ones out on the sidewalks and big ones in their cars driving themselves or entering our busses … It might take a few more minutes, but don’t complain about it, just leave a little earlier and be thankful we have a young generation in Pinellas County going off to be educated.”
Because of a new federal program, 64 schools in the county will provide free lunches to all students this school year without requiring students to submit applications for free or reduced-price lunches. All schools will provide free breakfast to all students, consisting of an entrée item, fruit choice and milk.