School Board stands firm on transportation policy

The board of Warren County School District is open to changing policy that excludes home school students from taking district classes, but much less interested in making exceptions to its transportation policy.

At committee meetings this week, board members heard from several parents.

Tim Hagberg and Christine Smith addressed home school issues.

“My wife and I are home school parents,” Hagberg said. “We choose to home school. That’s a decision we make.”

He said their youngest child had been accepted into a district politics and government class, but found out he would not be able to take it. “We thought that was very unfortunate,” Hagberg said. “We’re not looking for a diploma, we’re looking for the experience and the professionalism.”

He said he understood that the “district is not obligated to offer classes to home school students.”

But he considers, “our children are students of the Warren County School District.”

Smith focused on programming at Warren County Career Center.

“For the Warren County Career Center, none of the kids who are home schooled can attend that,” she said. “If we had been home schooling and had submitted out paper work and my evaluator said we had the appropriate work done… why could he not then attend the career center?”

“It’s just a matter of issuing the three credits for that particular class,” Smith said. “It does not have to be a Warren County School District diploma.”

Smith said she understood if a class was full, home school students would be at the bottom of the pecking order for space.

District officials asked if Smith would be willing to facilitate the home-school side of a meeting with committee members and administrators, and she agreed.

April and Eric Lucks spoke about a district transportation policy.

They asked the board and finance committee to consider allowing her daughter to ride one bus on certain days to a babysitter, and another bus on other days to their home.

Superintendent Amy Stewart explained that the transportation policy was changed in 2011 to solve busing problems.

“There was nothing malicious, it was meant for us to be able to get kids to and from home and school or a day care situation,” Stewart said.

“On Fridays, I would receive anywhere between 50 and 100 notes for kids riding alternative buses,” Director of Administrative Support Services Gary Weber said. “You assume the parent signed it. That’s all you can do.”

“Before this, we were less stringent, and on a weekly basis, I would receive a phone call from a panicked mother,” Transportation Manager Mike Kiehl said. “It begins a long cascade of calling drivers and asking where is this child.”

“There’s nothing worse than not knowing where a child is,” Stewart said. “Parents get very upset, as they should.”

“We did some research about why is this happening,” Kiehl said. “The kids that this was happening with, it was kids that had multiple bus stops. It all pointed to multiple bus stops is killing us.”

“There were so many points where things could go wrong,” Stewart said. “All those types of things were what initiated the need for a change to the policy.”

The district chose to simplify the policy and not allow students to ride different buses one day to the next.

“We adopted this policy and the problems went away,” Kiehl said. “It was really about the safety of the kids is why we adopted this policy.”

April Lucks said her child had been allowed to take different buses depending on the day of the week for the past three years. She said she would be more safe if she were allowed to continue to do so.

“She is eight years old and she’s been doing it for three years,” Lucks said. “She never once made a mistake. What we were asking for is that she has one bus trip to the babysitter and one to the house.”

“We are not the only family in this situation,” she said. “Some kids are going home to empty houses. I think there’s a middle ground… where you can meet the needs of the kids, the safety of the kids.”

Board member Mary Passinger said she empathized with Lucks’ situation, but that she had to look at it from the perspective of board accountability in the case a child does not get off the bus at the right stop.

“I understand how frustrating it is,” she said. But, “I would not want to be the one trying to deal with lost kids. I have to be able to defend the fact that your child didn’t get off the bus when he or she is supposed to.”

“If we make one exception, it’s a Pandora’s box,” board member Elizabeth Huffman said. “We cannot do this for 4,000 students.”

Lucks said the situation did not have to be “all or nothing.”

“There’s got to be a middle ground,” she said. “We have to have something in place where parents have options. Right now there aren’t options.”

“If I send a plan to the school… I don’t see an issue where that could possibly go wrong,” she said. “The district should be willing to work with parents who have a plan.”

“At this time, I believe the board has made a decision that we cannot make a change to policy… because it would be too much of a disruption to 4,000 students,” Huffman said.