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School busing arrangement irks Hancock-area parents

February 09, 2001|By TARA REILLY

School busing arrangement irks Hancock-area parents



Some Hancock-area parents are unhappy about how early their children must catch the school bus in the morning and how late they are returned home at the end of the day.

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Some also want to know why Hancock elementary and high school students must ride together on the school bus.

Washington County Board of Education members debated with each other over the bus issue at a Tuesday meeting, while two parents pleaded their case to change the long-time transportation methods.

Parents have said that because of the school system's double-round busing, their children must go to school about 40 minutes early and wait there until the second round of students arrive. At the end of the day, the same students who arrived early must wait at school another 40 minutes before they are taken home.

No other school in the county transports high school and elementary students together.

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Edwin Stigile, a member of Hancock Elementary School's Citizens Advisory Council, said the long waits are especially hard on elementary students.

"You're yanking these younger ones out of bed," he said.

Chris Carter, the board's director of transportation, said students in the outlying areas are picked up first about an hour before school starts.

Stigile said some elementary students are dropped off at school as early as 8:05 a.m. and then must wait in the lunchroom until school starts at 8:50 a.m. Middle and high school students wait in the gym. Those same students must then wait until about 4:05 p.m. before they are taken home.

School is dismissed at about 3:25 p.m. for elementary students and 3:30 p.m. for high school students.

Stigile said his seventh-grade son gets dropped off at the high school, reports to the gym and then waits.

"He sits there and trades Pokemon cards," Stigile said. "This is basically a holding tank."

He said students arrive at school before the teachers, who get there at about 8:25 a.m. The schools rotate staff to monitor students who arrive early, he said.

Parent Sandi Myers said she was concerned that her 6-year-old daughter in first grade has to ride on the same bus as high school students. Her daughter could be exposed to objectionable behavior and language, she said. She said pre-schoolers are also on the bus with high school students.

"It's just not a good situation," she said. "That's just not the way it should be. Most parents aren't aware that Hancock is the only school that's this way."

Parents said they have tried for seven years to change the busing system to no avail.

School Board President J. Herbert Hardin said the transportation method is set up that way because it's cost efficient, but that the board is looking into how much it would cost to add buses to the Hancock routes.

As of now, the board uses eight buses to transport Hancock-area students, which costs the school system between $24,000 to $44,000 a year, Hardin said. It would take one or two additional buses to alleviate parents' concerns.

In January, board administrators sent 450 surveys home to Hancock-area parents for feedback on the situation and 113 surveys were returned. Seventy-two were from elementary parents and 36 from high school parents.

Out of the 113 returned surveys, 46 percent said there shouldn't be a change in the current drop-off and pick-up times; 30 percent said there should be separate bus runs for elementary and middle/high school students and that elementary students should begin and end an hour earlier than present; 24 percent said elementary students should continue to ride together, but that travel and wait times should be reduced.

Board members disagreed Tuesday over the survey results.

"They don't have overwhelming concern with all of the students riding together," Board member Doris Nipps said of the parent responses.

"There were 300 people who didn't respond, was it because they were satisfied?" Board member Mary Wilfong asked.

Board Vice President Bernadette Wagner said the wording of the survey and the fact that it was sent only to Hancock parents "skewed" the results.

She said if parents had known that the Hancock schools were the only ones that bus elementary and high school students together, maybe the results would have been different.

"If we were to do this survey equitably, we would've sent this survey to the entire county and asked them if they wanted the young kids to ride together with the older kids," Wagner said. "You would get a 'No.' But we're skewing answers by sending them only to a population who doesn't know it's only happening to them."

She said the board should "look at putting another bus in the Hancock area and see if it can go now. I feel like we can do something now."

Board member Roxanne Ober said parents have been bringing the same issue to the board for seven years and that it remains an ongoing concern.

Nipps said the board wasn't ignoring parents, but that it had decided not to make any changes.

"This board has discussed this as an issue in the past," Nipps said. "I resent the implication that the board has never done that."

"I haven't implied that the board hasn't looked at the issue," Ober said. "I said that for seven years this same issue has been coming up."

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