Photo: Steve Thurston
In a sign that the school busing debate may not be letting up anytime soon, about a dozen parents spoke to the school board last night, demanding changes to a system they called a “sham” and a “failure,” brought to them by school staff that were “arrogant and rude.”
“Please know that we do hear you, and the Arlington Public School staff hears you,” replied APS board Chair Emma Violand-Sanchez after the end of public comment. Many parents at the back of the room shook their heads and made disbelieving remarks.
Reading from a prepared statement, Violand-Sanchez said, “So, as you’re well aware, it was with the goals of greater efficiency, safety, and timeliness, that changes to our transportation were undertaken. But, as many of you have fairly pointed out, we may have missed those marks in some cases.” She promised that the discussion would continue.
One mark that may have been missed or not--depending on which side is asked--was the public vetting of the plan. Staff maintained throughout the night that they had kept the community informed. The planning has been conducted over the past year with reports to the board. It was presented to the school board in June, staff said. PTAs were notified.
However, there was no public comment period, no official time for parents to say their peace before the plan was implemented.
“We’ll accept that criticism,” said Clarence Stukes, the assistant superintendent for facilities and operations who has been overseeing the changes.
“The depth of the [implemented] changes was something that was not fully realized" in June, said board member Sally Baird after the board meeting. She added, “I think we all wish it had gone a little differently.”
The issue began about three weeks ago when APS sent letters home to some parents explaining that their children who may have been riding a bus to school in previous years now would be required to walk, ride a bike, or find another way to school. Another 14,000 letters were sent to other parents telling them that their children were allowed to ride the bus. Those letters contained a bus pass.
The rule said that any elementary school student who lives within a mile of the school must walk, and any middle or high schooler must walk if he or she lives within 1.5 miles of the school.
The plan did not take roadways into account. Some students have to cross some of Arlington’s busier roads. Parents have been concerned about safety and about the timing of the announcement, coming after they had made daycare and afterschool arrangements.