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Amid rise in use and safety concerns, Bend-La Pine Schools revises e-bike, e-scooter rules, bans middle-school riders

(Update: Adding video, comments from school official and bike advocate)

Crashes, close calls prompt move; repeat offenders could mean they are held for parents to pick up

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Bend-La Pine Schools officials say rising use of e-bikes by students not old enough to legally ride them has led to collisions and close calls. That's prompted a rule change that prohibits students under age 16 from riding e-bikes or e-scooters to school and could lead to them being held for parents to pick up, if there are repeated violations.

“We have seen growing numbers of underage riders bringing electric bikes and scooters to school, even as we’ve reminded students and families that state law prohibits those under 16 from operating these,” Superintendent Steven Cook said in a recently distributed newsletter to families.

“Stakeholders and our community have asked for stronger measures to promote the safety of riders and the pedestrians who share sidewalks and pathways with them. We’re ready to do what we can to accomplish this,” Cook said.

The new rule already is in effect, but enforcement will begin when classes resume after spring break on Monday, April 8. Repeated violations could lead to the e-bike or e-scooter being held at school for the parent or guardian to pick up.

Pacific Crest Middle School Principal Sean Keating said Monday, "We've heard from neighbors and from bus drivers that our kids aren't stopping at stop signs. Sometimes they have multiple students on e-bikes, not always wearing their helmets, riding on sidewalks."

Under the new rule, middle school students under the age of 16 will be prohibited from operating e-bikes or e-scooters on school property.

Jim Elliot, a board member for Bend Bikes, thinks more can be done.

"I think the school (district) needs to take a stronger stand with the city and say, 'We need to make our streets safer, travel independently,' because that's how kids want is to be independent. That's how they learn their way around," he said Monday.

Schools like Pacific Crest have tried educating students and worked with organizations in the area to warn students about the safety of e-bikes, according to Keating.

"We've also partnered with Bend Police Department, and we've messaged out to our community that the law says e-bikes are only for kids who are 16 and older. And so we've been doing that for a while -- and we're still seeing e-bikes grow in popularity," he said.

While this new rule is one step in the continued outcry for greater e-bike safety, Elliot says the young riders aren't really the problem.

"We did not address the unsafe streets, the cars that drive too fast, that run stop signs, run stoplights," he said. "Kids are making a rational decision by riding on the sidewalks, because the streets aren't safe. A single painted bike lane does protect anyone from a car where the driver is looking at their phone, or is otherwise distracted."

"We want our kids to ride bikes to school, but we want them to be safe. We want to follow state law and we want to be a good partner for our community," Keating said.

Oregon lawmakers recently adopted a bill referred to as Trenton’s Law, named for Bend teen Trenton Burger, killed in an e-bike crash last year.

But that legislation was reduced om the legislative process to only update the definitions of e-bikes and did not change the laws related to e-bikes and who can legally ride them, though its sponsor, state Rep. Emerson Levy, D-Bend, said more changes will be sought to improve safety in coming sessions.

The new school district policy was in the works well before consideration and passage of that bill, which has yet to be signed into law by Gov. Tina Kotek.

“We’ve been working on this for months,” Director of Communications Scott Maben said late last week.

“Last fall, we first started seeing an explosion in students riding e-bikes,” Maben said. “We first communicated with families to please” keep their younger students from riding the e-bikes to school, but did not at that time take the addition step of confiscating them.

Maben said over the winter, “we were getting more and more feedback from the community, saying that ‘the school district has to do something,’ so we re-evaluated our own administrative rules,” which will now give a warning before an e-bike is held at school for the parents to come pick it up.

The delay to April 8 is meant to give families time to arrange other ways for their students to get to and from school. There will be new signs posted to remind everyone, and administrators will be at the schools to help educate everyone about the new rules.

Here's the letter the school district sent home last week to middle school families:

New rule for e-bikes, e-scooters

March 12, 2024

Dear Bend-La Pine School District Parents and Guardians, 

Earlier this school year, we taught bike safety lessons during advisory in all of our middle schools. We have also shared resources with you through school newsletters. In these newsletters, we outlined bike safety practices and communicated that, under Oregon law, e-bikes and e-scooters are illegal for anyone under 16 years of age. 

Unfortunately, e-bike and e-scooter ridership has not decreased at our middle schools. This year alone, we’ve had several collisions involving e-bikes that have resulted in injuries, as well as many close calls reported to us from bus drivers and concerned community members. 

As a result of these incidents, after much public comment to our school board and administrators, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have created a new rule governing e-bikes and e-scooters on school campuses (KGB-AR: Public Conduct on District Property). 

Under this new rule, those who operate bicycles, electric bicycles or electric scooters must be in compliance with Oregon motor vehicle and bike regulations and laws on school property. The rule also states, “E-bikes and E-scooters are prohibited on district property for persons under age 16.” Accordingly, the District will no longer allow any student under age 16 to bring an e-bike or e-scooter onto school property.

We are giving families time to arrange alternative transportation if their students are currently using, or plan to use, an e-bike or e-scooter to travel to and from school. Beginning April 8, administrators will contact students and parents/guardians about instances of violations of the e-bike/e-scooter rule. 

School administrators at our middle schools will treat e-bikes and e-scooters the following ways:

  1. For a first offense, the student and parent/guardian will be notified and reminded of the rule. We will ask the parent/guardian their wishes for arranging the student’s transportation home that day.
  2. For a second offense, the student and parent/guardian will be notified, and the e-bike or e-scooter will be held at the school for the parent/guardian to pick up. 
  3. For subsequent offenses, the student and parent/guardian will be notified, the e-bike or e-scooter will be held at the school for the parent/guardian to pick up, and the parent/guardian will be asked to meet at school with an administrator and/or School Resource Officer.
  4. Students who continue to violate this rule shall face additional consequences.

Thank you for your continued partnership as we institute this new rule for student and public safety. We hope students continue to seek alternative, safe and legal transportation options to our schools.

Article Topic Follows: Education

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Isabella Warren

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