More and More School Buses Getting Tinted Windows

(Friday, November 10, 2006 11:32 AM EST)
Years ago, drivers could pull up beside a school bus and see the faces of students inside. No longer.

Many Northern Virginia school systems, in an effort to reduce temperatures inside the vehicles, have outfitted many of their buses with tinted windows.

“Bus companies offer this feature as an option to allow school divisions to purchase buses that meet their needs and geographic environment,” said Frank Bellavia, an Arlington Public Schools spokesman.

School systems in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Manassas now buy buses with tinted glass, light-colored roofs and emergency-escape hatches, which allow heat to escape, he said.

Arlington Public Schools began using tinted bus windows in 1992 and almost all of its buses now have them, said Jim Day, regional director of the Virginia Association for Pupil Transportation.

The cost for tinted windows varies with the make, model and year of the school bus, but the fee is nominal and has not increased significantly since 1992, Day said.

Tinted windows also give students, especially ones with special needs, some extra privacy and protection from light, he said.

Fairfax County school officials began studying the use of tinted windows in the early 1980s and started testing the windows on buses in 1989, said Tim Parker, assistant director of the school system's Office of Transportation.

School officials also ordered white bus roofs to reflect some of the sun's rays, added roof insulation and installed a layer of three-quarter-inch plywood under the vinyl flooring to protect passengers from road heat in the summer and cold in the winter.

Fairfax County schools have 1,581 buses, more than 1,100 of which are on the road every day, Parker said. More than half of the vehicles now have white roofs and tinted windows, which help reduce passenger-area temperatures by about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, he said.

Fairfax school officials didn't stop with those measures. Since 2002, the school system has ordered its new buses with air conditioning. These buses constitute about one-third of the fleet, Parker said.

Arlington school buses do not use air conditioning, Day said.

Schools aren't the only public agencies whose officials have seen the value of tinted windows. Several local law-enforcement agencies have begun tinting the windows of their police cruisers to provide a slightly cooler working environment and reduce screen glare on officers' in-vehicle laptop computers.

Police officials said they have performed tests to ensure officers can see out of their vehicles adequately and that the tinting does not pose a threat to their safety.

Parker would not discuss the school system's security measures for buses, but said there were both advantages and drawbacks to not being able to see inside tinted windows.

Day said the darker windows did not pose a security concern.

“They're dark, but you can still see in,” he said. “In a hostage situation, you'd still be able to see in. You may not necessarily be able to tell who it is, but you can tell if there's someone on the bus.”

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