After weeks of pressure from parents--and many heated school board meetings in which parents spoke angrily and often attacked personally--the Arlington Public Schools board decided last night to make a couple limited changes to the busing policy that has caused headaches for parents this year.
As the Mercury reported after the last school board meeting, this year's stringent enforcement of the “Transportation Modernization Plan” left preschool and other young elementary school students without a bus to get them to Campbell Elementary School. The parents and supporters complained loudly at the last school board meeting about children who were cold, tired and wet when they arrived at the school. Mothers complained that they had to quit jobs, or were fired for being chronically late. Arlington Public Schools Board Chair Emma Violand-Sanchez put some pressure on Superintendent Patrick Murphy to do something at that meeting.
The new rules allows those students who were bused to Campbell Elementary School last year to be allowed back on the buses this year. As well, students elsewhere in the county on a limited basis will be allowed onto other buses if those buses have space. Parents who appealed the initial decisions about busing and are waiting to hear what APS has to say will continue to wait.
Murphy said capacity and disruption drove his decision to recommend a change. About 20 families had threatened to leave Campbell Elementary School and return to their neighborhood school--Carlin Springs Elementary--a school that is already at capacity. Campbell is a school that accepts students from around the county.
In an ironic twist for the students, the neighborhood school is actually farther away and would require busing. The rules state that elementary school children walk to school if they live within a one-mile radius of the school; secondary children walk if the school is under 1.5 miles away.
“If the impacted families elect to return to their neighborhood school,...there will be a significant impact on capacity, enrollment, and staffing at both locations [Carlin Springs and Campbell elementary schools],” Murphy wrote in the memo.
In the memo to the school board, Murphy said that number of students would require nine more relocatable classrooms and two or three more buses to accommodate them. That would run as high as $1.2 million.
Murphy and the school board also expressed a concern for the disruption in education caused by transferring students.
Murphy said these changes apply to this year only and give the school system time to establish the Multi‐modal Transportation and Student Safety Committee, more commonly referred to as the transportation task force. Once formed, this committee will look to fix current problems in the school busing situation. School board members have said many times in interviews after school board meetings that busing is in dire straits at APS. Staff and the school board have promised to include parents and citizens on this committee.