When the school dismissal bell rang Tuesday afternoon at North School, about 15 students lined up to retrieve their bikes.
Assistant Principal Carla Washington watched the bike rack from the window as each student strapped on a helmet before they rode off.
“I don’t think anybody used to wear helmets,” she said.
That all changed two months ago when Washington and other school administrators decided to crack down on students who biked to and from school without a helmet.
Parents received a letter in both English and Spanish that explained that California law requires children younger than 18 to wear a helmet while on a bike and informed them that school administrators will confiscate bikes until the student wears a helmet.
“We told them, ‘If you don’t have a helmet, we’ll keep your bike and you’ll have to walk home,’” she said. “And it’s worked.”
She held just one student’s bike in the school office overnight. Most students had helmets at home but neglected to wear them before the crackdown began. The school’s safety fund has provided three students with helmets.
“It’s worth it to us,” Washington said. “We really value safety here. This has really taught our students civic responsibility.”
No parents have complained about the school’s strict helmet rule, she added, and most students have followed suit.
Sixth-grader Thyisha Bell started to wear her helmet to school, but she doesn’t agree with the school’s new policy.
“I’ll wear it, but it’s going too far to take my bike,” she said. “It’s my property.”
North School seventh-grader Destri Alauan admitted she understands the law and owns a helmet, but rarely wears it.
“I don’t wear it because I don’t want to look like a geek,” she said.
Third-grader Sahib Singh, who occasionally rides his bike to school, said he never leaves home without a helmet. “My mom said to because I don’t want to get injured. It makes me nervous without it.”
When Tracy police enforce the helmet law at a particular school site, young bike riders usually begin to follow the rules, said Paul Padersen, a school resource officer. “The kids who know the rule usually follow it. It helps when schools send out reminders.”
Children who are caught without a helmet are required to appear with parents before a judge in French Camp and are charged a small fine.
To contact reporter Danielle MacMurchy, call 830-4221 or e-mail email@example.com.