Note: This story was last updated at 11:15 a.m. August 12.
After hearing impassioned pleas from parents and grandparents, the Oak Ridge school board on Monday temporarily restored bus service to about 1,300 students who had been affected by an expanded but controversial “parent responsibility zone.” Parents of students who lived within that zone were responsible for getting their children to and from schools; bus service was not provided.
The parent responsibility zone, or PRZ, was expanded to 1.5 miles in June as part of a move to reduce a $1.25 million budget deficit. But parents of elementary and middle school students, in particular, objected to having students as young as five years old cross busy four-lane roadways like Oak Ridge Turnpike or Illinois Avenue to get to school, or walk past the homes of registered sex offenders or down roads with no sidewalks.
Parents, including single mothers, also expressed concerns about losing their jobs because they have to leave work early to pick up their children. They also said the expanded parent responsibility zone, which some call a “walk zone,” had a disproportionate impact on low-income families and elementary school children. They were disappointed by a lack of crossing guards near their schools, where their children or grandchildren cross busy roads. (City officials say they are accepting applications for crossing guards.)
“This is too dangerous,” resident Regina Wood said. “The safest way to get these kids to school is a bus,” resident Bill Dodge said.
On Monday, after a series of protests that started in July, the Oak Ridge Board of Education agreed in a 4-1 vote to use $300,000 in one-time money from the school system’s fund balance to restore the bus routes this year and then study the issue comprehensively before the next school year—or try to obtain more funding. The Monday night vote essentially reverses the June decision.
The bus routes likely won’t be restored immediately however, and possibly not until October. Among other things, up to three school bus drivers might need to be hired for an additional six routes, and buses will have to be made “road ready.” Still, advocates of restoring bus service were pleased for now. [Read more…]