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Residents want help with bus stop of horrors

More than 20 teens gather each morning waiting for the school bus. They gossip and joke. A handful of them also paint graffiti on their neighbors' fences, litter in their yards and employ intimidation tactics, Tacoma resident Gary Schwark said.

Schwark, who's girlfriend lives in the Madrona Trails neighborhood, located near Southwest 347th Place, spends a significant amount of time at his girlfriend's house while she works nightshifts.

A sleepless night due to rebellious teens is not that uncommon to Schwark. Each day brings more vandalism. The activity in the neighborhood has become so bad that he often stays up late or gets up early to watch over the house. About a dozen teenagers, who appear middle-school aged, have challenged neighbors to fights and have thrown rocks through windows after being confronted about their misbehavior, Schwark said. There have been times when they have lined up across the street intentionally blocking neighborhood traffic.

One block away, near Southwest 327th Street, the teenagers gather at Steve Gillit's residence. They climb his hedge, drink alcohol, leave their litter and urinate on his fence. The teenagers are noisy and disrespectful, he said.

"They are trying to intimidate the whole neighborhood," Schwark said.

Much of the activity happens during the school year while the teenagers are waiting to catch the bus. The stop has resided in the same location for more than 15 years, but Schwark would like to see it moved or split up, so a decreased number of students are gathering in one place at the same time.

The teenagers are not being held accountable for their actions at the bus stop and in the neighborhood, Schwark said.

"It's just frustrating and I have no real solution to it. After years of this stuff it is a big deal."

Schwark has contacted the Federal Way police, City of Federal Way and the Federal Way school district to make complaints about the teenagers and their antics. He has sent photographs of the graffiti and damage the teenagers have done to the school district and the city. The police are responsive and sympathetic to neighbors, but have not been able to distinguish the troubles, Schwark said.

"By all means, the city is not ignoring the problem."

The police have been called on the teenagers numerous times, but they have not, to his knowledge, caught the teenagers while they are tagging or performing any illegal activities. Schwark has been told by police that holding the teenagers responsible for their actions is a difficult task if they are not caught on tape.

Parents would not likely appreciate photographs of their children being taken at their bus stop, Marcia Denton, FWPS Transportation Department office manager said.

Police have told Gillit that he ought to call whenever the teenagers are causing trouble. The more times they respond to a call, the more likely they are of catching someone in the act, Gillit said the police told him.

The Federal Way Public Schools Transportation department is aware of the problem in the neighborhood. Schwark sent photographs of the graffiti and vandalized property near his girlfriend's home and a complaint letter to the district. Both were received late in the school year and have not yet been addressed, Cindy Wendland, Federal Way Public Schools Transportation Director, said.

The department does plan to work closely with police to determine if the graffiti is gang-related or not, she said. It also plans to try to narrow down what age group is causing the most trouble and at what time the incidents are happening. The nuisance will be evaluated before school resumes in the fall.

"It is not certain what, if anything, can be done to alleviate troubles," Wendland said. "The department must provide a safe bus stop, but doing so requires a commitment on the sides of the students and their parents, as well."

"The main thing I want is for the parents to be aware and take responsibility for their kids' actions," Schwark said.

Students are expected to abide by certain rules while at their bus stops. They should arrive at their bus stop shortly before the bus is due and respect nearby property, according to the Federal Way Public Schools Bus Rules, found on the school district's Web site. Students are advised to show up no more than 10 minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.

The school district is partially responsible for the teenagers when they are waiting for their bus, but parents must also take responsibility for their children, Wendland said.

"We rely on the parents a lot to keep the stops safe," she said.

Existing bus stops can be changed or altered, but the Federal Way school district must first determine if another safe area, which could serve as a bus stop, is nearby.

"We don't just move a bus stop because someone calls and says move it," Wendland said.

Evaluating where new stops may be placed or existing stops moved to is typically done in the summertime, Denton said.

Each stop must be visible from anyone approaching within 500 feet. It cannot be located directly near an intersection and plenty of room must be available for students to stand and keep out of the streets and off private property.

At existing bus stops the district must also evaluate the complaints it receives and determine if a legitimate problem exists at that location. It then must decide if moving the stop will alleviate the problems. The Transportation Department does not want to simply move a problem from one end of the neighborhood to another, Wendland said.

While the Federal Way school district has the authority to inform a student's school about misbehavior, it cannot restrict a student from riding the bus unless he or she is a danger to others, Denton said. Individual schools are responsible for punishing students if they cause troubles at their bus stop. Each school has its own policy, but if a student is misbehaving at a bus stop he or she may receive in-school suspension, after school detention or have his or her bus privileges restricted, Denton said.

To report a complaint about a bus stop, call (253) 945-5960.

Contact Jacinda Howard at:

jhoward@fedwaymirror.com or (253) 925-5565.

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