School Buses For SOMA Kids
School Buses For SOMA Kids
Why this petition matters
We, the undersigned residents of South Orange and Maplewood ("SOMA"), support the efforts and objectives of the South Orange-Maplewood School District (the "District") in adopting the Intentional Integration Initiative (the "III"), which is now in the second year of its implementation.
However, we believe that the success of the III is dependent on ensuring that all SOMA students are able to commute to and from their placement schools in a safe, dependable, and efficient manner.
New Jersey law provides that students in grades K-8 who attend school more than two miles from their home be entitled to round-trip school bus transportation. The law establishes a minimum standard. The minimum established in the law is not intended as a universal standard, and New Jersey law in no way limits school districts from offering transportation to additional students.
The III has presented our District with an opportunity to be a leader in integration, and the District has a responsibility to the students to give the III the resources it needs and deserves. We should be aiming for a transportation policy that will make the III plan successful and keep our students safe, rather than following a legal minimum standard of two miles.
To that end:
- The District cannot, and must not, assume that every SOMA student is capable of walking up to 60 minutes, twice a day, for the entire school year. This is especially true in light of SOMA's multiple high-traffic roads and hazardous intersections (many of which do not currently have crossing guards, and many of which should be properly designated as “hazardous routes” and are not). By failing to provide busing for students living more than one mile from school, the District is requiring many young children to risk injury and worse by walking routes that are congested and dangerous. This risk is heightened by SOMA’s often hilly topography and inclement weather. The District is also ignoring the ways in which a long walking commute can unduly complicate a family’s morning routine, especially when younger siblings must be brought along on a close to four-mile journey, for up to two hours.
- The District cannot, and must not, assume that every SOMA student has access to a ride from a parent or caretaker, twice a day, for the entire school year. This is especially true for SOMA families who have two working parents, for SOMA families who have one working parent, but only one vehicle, for SOMA families who do not own a vehicle, for SOMA families who have parents that have conflicting work shifts, for SOMA families with only one parent, for SOMA families with kids in different schools, for SOMA families with after-school caretakers who do not drive, and for many, many other reasons not specifically mentioned.
- The District cannot, and must not, ignore the negative impact of having many more vehicles on our roads during rush-hour. This includes the compounded environmental impact of more cars and traffic, as well as the safety implications for those who are walking.
Transportation is integral to the success of the III. Dr. Taylor has acknowledged in writing that SOMA families are already facing hardships because of the District's decision not to provide transportation to students who live less than two miles from their assigned schools. It is true that, as currently written, the District's updated transportation policy will be applied equally to all families. However, the updated policy is an unacceptable step backwards, will have a disparate, and inequitable, impact on many SOMA families, and will compound existing hardships for vulnerable families. In short, both the historical transportation policy and the updated transportation policy undermine the fundamental goal of the III.
In light of the foregoing and for other reasons to be communicated by signers of this petition at upcoming Board of Education meetings, we hereby petition the District to revise its school bus eligibility policy as follows:
1. The One Mile Rule - Any SOMA elementary or middle school student who has been placed at a school located at least one mile away from their home shall be eligible to ride a school bus.
2. The Subscription Option - Any SOMA elementary or middle school student who has been placed at a school located less than one mile, but more than 1/2 mile away from their home, but who nonetheless demonstrates a need for school bus transportation, shall be eligible to subscribe for school bus transportation for an annual fee. The signers of this petition would expect the amount of the annual fee to be reasonably determined by the District, for there to be a cap on the maximum amount payable per family, and for a waiver of such fee to be applied in cases of economic need.
If adopted, the above model would substantially mimic the model applicable in Montclair, a community which has its own integration program similar to the III. Montclair recognizes that its integration program deserves more than the bare legal minimum, provides all elementary and middle school students who live one mile away with a school bus free of charge, and provides all other students the option to pay for a school bus.
The III's objectives should not be overshadowed by anger and frustration over transportation hardships. Families should not be panicking and scrambling at the news of their III placements. Families should welcome the news of their III placements, be excited about the rich and diverse education their child will receive, and rest assured that their transportation needs will be met.
SOMA families and the III deserve more than the bare minimum. We implore the District to do what is necessary to help the III succeed for all of our students.