A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

SDX Awards: Newspaper editorial writing, Diane Steinle

By Quill

Diane Steinle voiced a community’s outrage.

As an editorial writer for the St. Petersburg Times, Steinle wrote several pieces centering on the death of 16-year-old Rebecca McKinney, who was hit and killed while crossing a six-lane road after getting off her school bus.

“This tragic accident led to more disturbing news,” said Phillip L. Gailey, editor of editorials and vice president for the Times. “Students all over densely populated Pinellas County were crossing hazardous roads to get home from their bus stops, in flagrant violation of a school district policy banning bus stops on roads four lanes or wider.”

But she was not the first victim. Steven Luteran, 14, was killed in 1992 when he was hit by a driver illegally passing his stopped school bus as he crossed four-lane Clearwater-Largo road. Because the driver who hit the child was charged, little notice was paid to the fact that Steven’s bus stop was on the opposite side of a multilane road from his neighborhood. That was 12 years ago. Clearly, nothing changed.

… Bus drivers say district transportation officials had an unwritten policy that middle school and high school children were old enough to cross multilane roads by themselves. Two dead children prove them wrong.

Steinle called for the new school superintendent and the School Board to reform the district’s transportation system.

One of Steinle’s later editorials revealed that 300 bus stops in Pinellas County had children crossing roads more than three lanes wide.

“The school district, which initially wrote off Rebecca’s death as an unfortunate accident, took notice,” said Gailey. “By the end of December, the superintendent had recommended that two top transportation administrators be fired and 10 routing supervisors suspended.”

The superintendent also asked the School Board to increase the transportation budget by more than $500,000 and began making sweeping changes to improve the department’s management, communication, training and handling of parent complaints.

To date, some 500 bus stops have been moved to safer locations.

“Steinle’s editorials helped protect thousands of children and ensure that Rebecca’s death did not pass quietly,” said Gailey.