Organizers seek answers on school transportation questions
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, October 2004) Organizers from May Dugan Center , Merrick House, Clark Metro Development Corporation and Stockyard Redevelopment Organization joined forces to examine issues and concerns raised by changes in the Cleveland Municipal School District ’s (CMSD) transportation policy. The September 20 th meeting at Zone Recreation Center was organized because many of the questions asked by parents were left unanswered at a CMSD sponsored meeting two weeks prior to the start of school.
The CMSD’s decision to no longer provide after-school transportation to day care centers took many parents by surprise when it was announced just before the start of school. According to organizer Tim Walters of the May Dugan Center , the school district told parents that it was now their problem to get their children to and from day care after school and suggested that parents rely on family, neighbors and friends. Parents raised concerns that they didn’t know their neighbors. Some day care agencies have already reported losing children as a result of the policy change, said Walters.
Another concern raised was the increase in the distance, from one to two miles, before K-8 th grade students could get district transportation. Concerns were raised by parents about walking distance to school, route safety and children staying alone at home after school when parents are still at work. New district rules require high school students living less than 3 miles from school to walk to school, which also raised concerns from parents of special needs high school students
A parent with special needs children in three different schools described the difficulty of getting all the children off to school safely in the morning. Unable to accompany them all to school, she worries whether one child can ride RTA safely alone with other kids, is concerned about the lack of crossing guards on the routes to school and wonders if she can get to her children in time by bus from her job across town if there is a reason to take them out of school for medical reasons.
Some parents of special needs children expressed concern that the district is reducing or denying services to their children to save money.
A parent expressed concern that her hearing-impaired special needs child has been asked to take public transportation to South High School from the midwest side of Cleveland . She said the high school student wanted to attend Max Hayes and learn to be an auto mechanic. The parent said she was also told by Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett that there was no money to help her hearing impaired child learn a trade.
A parent said her hearing-impaired child attending Alexander Bell took part in after-school extracurricular activities last year and then was transported home by a school bus. Due to the district’s elimination this year of both after-school programs and transportation, the parent had difficulty finding a day care program that provides services to special needs children..
Another parent told of the difficulties faced by a wheelchair-bound parent accompanying her children to the cluster bus stop early in the morning. Other parents talked about the affordability of continuing to drive their children to school.
A parent suggested that some parents are under the impression that passing a school levy would bring back school buses. He wondered if this was true. (Editor’s note: The CMSD cut its budget by $100 million this school year. The levy, if passed, is expected to raise roughly $68 million a year).
Parents also raised concern about the safety of students walking to cluster bus stops early in the morning before school crossing guards arrive. It was suggested that Cleveland City Council members, who allocate funds for the school crossing guards, be contacted to adjust the schedules and locations of school crossing guards to the new transportation routes. It was noted that Cleveland police mini-station officers helped by acting as crossing guards at busy intersections before the city of Cleveland cut the mini-station program. . Parents faced with getting to work on time and wanting to drop their children off early expressed concern that buildings be opened earlier in the morning so early-arriving students didn’t have to wait outside. One parent described how parents at his school arranged to staff the school gym themselves so students could enter the school before school staff arrived.
A representative of the Ohio City Bicycle Coop passed out brochures from the Cleveland Safe Routes to School program and urged involvement of more neighborhood agencies, churches and government institutions to expand the program. The bike coop participates in the pilot program at two schools to help children ride their bikes safely to school.
A committee was formed to create a comprehensive list of before- and after-school programs and a survey to learn more from programs that have found ways to pay for transportation. Dialogue would also be established with Mayor Jane Campbell and School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett about the importance of day care to welfare reform, maintaining employment and moving families out of poverty.
Organizers promised to look into the legal rights of special needs students to request classes at neighborhood schools or safe transportation to programs. They will also check on the role of the school system’s ombudsman in helping parents to resolve these issues, and question school board members about how money from a successful levy would be spent.
Another community meeting on transportation issues was tentatively scheduled for Monday, October 18 th at Zone Recreation Center . Childcare will be provided. For more information, or to help plan the meeting, call Tim Walters at the May Dugan Center at 631-5800.
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