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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 7, 2010
Father challenges school on his 6-year-old’s 500-foot walk to bus stop
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND The father of a first-grader believes it is unsafe and unfair that his son must walk about a tenth of a mile to get the school bus every day. The Guilderland administrator overseeing transportation, though, says that the walk is consistent with the district’s policy, which is applied to everyone.
After a month of corresponding with school administrators, Thinh Nguyen brought his complaint to the school board on Tuesday night. The school board president, Richard Weisz, asked the policy committee to look at the matter and said the board would get back to Nguyen at its next meeting, on Oct. 19.
Nguyen’s son, An, is 6 years old and is in the first grade at Pine Bush Elementary School. Last year, he got the school bus in front of his home at 11 Ida Lane. This year, he must walk to the intersection of Ronald Place, Anne Drive, and Ida Lane. The walk is roughly the length of one-and-a-half football fields.
“I have safety concerns with the new designated pick-up/drop-off location for my son, and one of the safety concerns is that the bus driver has no visual contact of how An returns home,” Nguyen wrote to the district’s interim superintendent, Michael Marcelle, in a letter he also sent to The Enterprise this week. “Without the visual contact of the bus driver, my child would be exposed to various unexpected dangers on his long walk back to the house.”
Nguyn told The Enterprise that he walks his child to the bus stop in the mornings and that he is also concerned because his younger son will be attending Pine Bush Elementary next year as a kindergartner. The other children who use the bus stop all live within 50 feet of it, said Nguyen.
He also said that his neighborhood had no sidewalks. “Kids have to walk in the street,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen listed in his letter six instances where, he said, buses picked up students in front of houses located, like his, in cul-de-sac areas. “An doesn’t understand why he has to do this,” Nguyen told The Enterprise. “He saw some other kid get dropped off right in front of his door.”
Marcelle responded to Nguyen that he and Neil Sanders, the assistant superintendent for business who supervises the district’s transportation department met with the director of transportation and reviewed each of the items Nguyen had listed; Sanders and Marcelle also toured the neighborhood.
“My conclusion,” Marcelle wrote, “is that, while our transportation department may not appear to be consistent with the pick-up and drop-off of students in your neighborhood, we are not treating your child unfairly with the services that are currently being provided. Therefore, I am not recommending any changes at this time.”
In a later e-mail to Nguyen, Marcelle told him to stop his unauthorized videotaping of school buses. Nguyen said he took the film from the street, not on school property where he would need authorization.
Sanders told The Enterprise this week that the district’s policy is that elementary students can walk two-tenths of a mile, middle-school students can walk half of a mile, and high school students can walk a mile “provided we have safe pathways for them to walk on.” High school students that live within a mile of the school, he said, aren’t required to walk because there are no sidewalks along the busy road.
Asked about the safety of An Nguyen walking to the bus stop in a neighborhood without sidewalks, Sanders said it was not a high-traffic area, as it is near the high school. “It’s a relatively isolated cul-de-sac neighborhood,” he said, where the traffic is largely limited to the residents who live there.
About the order to stop videotaping, Sanders said, “Parents get concerned whenever students are taped without knowledge and permission. We’re always very conscious of making sure, if someone films students on school property, we’re aware of it.”
The policy outlining distances to walk for each age group was adopted many years ago, Sanders said, although recently the district has made a “concerted effort to do more consolidation.” In order to save money, he said, “We took a closer look.”
Last year, according to “the consolidation model,” Sanders said, An Nguyen should have been getting the bus at the centralized stop instead of in front of his house but the district didn’t want to change it during the year and so waited until the start of the new school year.
Asked about the inconsistencies listed by Nguyen, Sanders said, “There are sometimes good reasons for a bus to enter a cul-de-sac, for example, to reverse a route so the bus can turn around.”
He also said, “Sometimes, we have unique student situations where we’ll do a localized pick-up.” This could be for a child with an injury or a handicap.
Sanders conceded, “We have a couple of inconsistencies on the list and have already taken steps to correct these.”
Marie Wiles, the new superintendent who began work on Monday, said, “I am very confident Neil and the director of transportation and Michael Marcelle did their homework and we feel confident in their decision.”
A related issue that Nguyen raised with the school board is the process by which bus routes are determined and by which parents are informed of them.
“It’s very much arbitrary,” Nguyen told The Enterprise. “I want them to let me know their process, their basis. If they think they’ll save money, why are they still doing it door-to-door for some of the route?
“People say, there’s no way you can fight with them…It makes me mad they’re not consistent. They should write out the exceptions and say why; let the taxpayer know. The process should be transparent.”
Nguyen said of the district’s way of letting parents know about bus routes, “You find out just before school starts. By then, it’s too late. Why put us through that? They should have an open process.”
Sanders told The Enterprise yesterday that adjustments are made in route schedules right up until the day school starts.
The district covers 50 square miles, and routes must be established for 5,500 students whether or not they ride the bus, said Sanders; many drive or have their parents drive them. Additionally, the district, by law, is responsible for transporting private and parochial school students (the Guilderland School District currently has 219), special education students (70), and home instruction students (45).
“We have established 88 bus routes, and some of them are multi-tiered routes,” said Sanders. The tiers accommodate the different schedules for elementary school, middle school, and high school. “Each, year, students move up grade levels,” said Sanders, and eventually age out into the next level.
The district uses sophisticated software, Sanders said, to chart its routes but it also “requires human intervention” since, for example, the software doesn’t take into account the varying flow of traffic at different times of day on Route 20.
And, although bus stops show up on computer maps, they are checked in person for safety features like visibility, Sanders said.
Throughout the summer, the routes are tweaked as families move in and out of the district and plans for child-care and babysitting change.
“There’s continual juggling and fine-tuning of routes right up until the start of school,” said Sanders. “Sometimes we do end up with inconsistencies…. It’s a very fluid process,” he said.