Students could lose bus ride

About 628 students enrolled in specialty programs in Prince William County schools could lose their ride to school if the School Board votes to get rid of neighborhood bus transportation for students.

The Prince William School Board will vote Dec. 19 on whether to eliminate bus service from students’ homes to their specialty programs at schools and instead offer express transportation service from common pickup locations.

The International Baccalaur-eate program at Stonewall Jackson High School began in 1993 as one of Prince William’s first specialty programs, attracting students from all over the county and providing direct transportation from home to school.

Similar magnet programs at Osbourn Park High School, Gar-Field High School, Graham Park Middle School, and Marsteller Middle School were also developed.

Students enrolled in specialty programs at these schools are offered bus transportation from their homes to the schools.

Now, with 13 specialty programs offered at 24 different schools, transportation for each student from home to school is “impossible,” said Superintendent Edward L. Kelly at the board’s meeting Wednesday.

While some specialty-program students continue to get the home-to-school bus service, others have parents drive them to common locations, usually a neighborhood school, for groups of students to be transported to their specialty programs via “express service.”

By the next school year, officials recommend that the board make express service the only transportation available for the students –making bus service uniform to all students in such programs.

“We can’t say we’ll do for one but won’t do for another,” said board member Lyle G. Beefelt.

“From a practical point of view, we can’t go to a program where we provide transportation from home to school for every child … there’s not enough buses, money or drivers,” Kelly said.

If the board votes to eliminate the home-to-school bus service, parents will be given 10 months to make arrangements from home to the express bus-stop location for their children.

A shortage of bus drivers is one reason for the proposal. According to school data, the county is short 36 drivers.

Thirty-one buses are used to provide transportation for specialty-program students, including home-to-school transportation and express service. Express service for all specialty programs would require only 19 buses each day, which would save money.

With student enrollment skyrocketing, school officials are forced to find ways to trim costs. The issue first came up at budget sessions last year, forcing school officials to re-evaluate specialty-program transportation, officials said.

Some parents appalled at the move to eliminate the special service came to the board’s Nov. 28 meeting.

Ann Chevalier, a parent of a student in the Stonewall High School program, pleaded with the board to allow students currently enrolled in specialty programs to continue to receive neighborhood transportation upon graduation.

A Woodbridge resident and working mother unable to drive her daughter across the county to school, Chevalier said the transportation that her daughter receives is vital to her continuing at Stonewall Jackson High School. She said that her daughter may have to withdraw from the program if the motion is passed.

“The logistics of getting our daughter to a remote transportation pickup site would have prevented her from enrolling in the program, but we were assured of the board’s commitment to transportation during the magnet orientation program,” Chevalier wrote in a letter to the board.

Staff writer Louise Cannon can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 123.

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