visalia – Parents living across Highway 99 in Goshen are upset that their children will not be able to take the bus to school anymore. But Visalia Unified School District officials are saying the route should have ended years ago.
At the beginning of this semester on Aug. 11, parents were told that the route would end in September in order to be in compliance with district policy. Parents told the district this was not acceptable because it was dangerous for their children, about 100 students, to walk to school as there are no sidewalks and few stop signs in the underdeveloped section of the unincorporated community. On Aug. 22, Assistant Superintendent Robert Groeber, director of transportation Ralph Meza III and Board President John Crabtree met with parents in Goshen to discuss the change.
Meza explained that when the pedestrian bridge across Highway 99 opened in 2005, it brought students in that area within walking distance of the school. Under the district’s transportation policy AR 3514, kindergarten through third grade students living within one mile of the school site are not eligible for transportation services. Students in grades 4-8 living within 2.5 miles from the school and grades 9-12 living within 3 miles of the school are also not eligible for district transportation.
“The bus stop for that area should have ended in 2005 and it was only due to an oversight that it didn’t happen until now,” said Meza, who is in his first year with VUSD.
Meza said the policy was created more than 10 years ago after national research showed that the most dangerous time for students getting to and from school is when they are being loaded and unloaded onto a school bus. In order to cut down on the amount of stops that a bus makes, the district eliminated bus stops within walking distance from the school sites.
“That is the most dangerous times for students because of the red light runners, the people who don’t stop when the flashing red stop sign is out on the bus,” said Meza, who has been in education transportation for 28 years.
Meza said the reduction in routes is part of the district’s SEE philosophy: S- Safety, providing the safest home to school route for pupils; E- Effective – making sure the service is consistent and equitable for all students; and E- Efficiency – provide the best service without impacting the general fund and use the savings to put more money back into the classroom. Parents argued that it wasn’t equitable because their students were the only ones being affected. However, Meza pointed out that bus stops were eliminated for Ivanhoe Elementary five years ago and just last year routes were eliminated in Patterson Tract, Mineral King Elementary, Annie R. Mitchell, Fairview and Highland to comply with the board policy.
“It’s part of the district’s plan to have neighborhood schools, where enrollment is focused on students living within walking distance of the school,” Meza said. “The rule is equitable because it affects every school site the same way. No one is getting special treatment.”
Meza said the district did apologize for any miscommunication of the change and said the dialogue may have broken down when Goshen Elementary went through an administrative change over the summer. That’s why the district is holding off on making the change permanent until it can be reviewed by the school board.
Meza said the district is gathering more information on the route before taking it before the school board. No date has been set to hear the matter but Meza said the route will continue for now until the board makes a final determination.
In the meantime, Meza offered to provide training for the “Walking School Bus,” a program where parent volunteers already walking their child to school can pick up children in other neighborhoods along the way so that many children are supervised on their way to school. The district also offered a general aide, a paid district employee, who could act as a crossing guard and lead the walking school bus for students living in that area until enough parent volunteers could take over the responsibility.
“After the meeting, most parents were understanding,” Meza said.