School officials at SUN Area Technical Institute are considering whether the danger associated with students driving to the New Berlin-based school warrant the need to ban student driving entirely.
More than 200 students travel to SUN Technical from their five home school districts -- Shikellamy, Selinsgrove, Midd-West, Mifflinburg and Lewisburg.
A tragic car crash more than a week ago involving a carload of students rushing from Shikellamy to SUN Technical was the first in a decade that claimed the life of a student. Dangerous driving among SUN Tech students may not be exactly well-documented, at this point, but there is sufficient anecdotal evidence of a problem that students and alumni refer to the commute to school as the "Tech 500."
Dennis Hain, administrative director at the school, estimates that there are about a dozen crashes each year.
All public school districts, to a degree, must deal with the responsibility associated with having students drive to and from school. For vocational schools that danger is amplified because the distance students travel is generally greater than if they were only going to the local high school.
Hain said that most vocational schools have struggled to develop a solution to the problem. Staff at SUN Tech have attempted to manage the situation by treating driving as a privilege rather than a right. Students can only drive to school with parental permission. Driving safety is addressed in the student handbook and SUN Tech students found to be reckless drivers are barred from driving to school.
The problem with that approach is that it may come too late. The first mistake in reckless driving may be deadly.
Eliminating driving would be a great inconvenience for students and parents, particularly when students are trying to hold down after-school jobs or participate in extra-curricular activities. For a vocational school that sometimes struggles to attract students, a rule change may deter students who could benefit from the courses offered at SUN Technical.
It is not certain that a knee-jerk move to ban driving to the vocational school is the appropriate response. If school officials do not want to take a drastic step but they want to do more than nothing, they ought to consider spot checks of student commuters to see if they can document whether reckless driving is as serious a problem as the anecdotal evidence suggests.