bus stop

here’s a back-to-school equation for you: bad decisions + poor communication = really pissed off parents.

so arlington county public schools is a pretty awesome district. we moved here specifically for the schools, and we’ve been quite happy overall with our kids’ experiences. we’ve especially loved our elementary school, taylor elementary (go tigers!) the administration is open and receptive; the teachers have been caring; and so far, so good. my house is .9 miles from the school; and we are among the people situated closest to the school from out of our school bus stop pals. most are further away, certainly a mile or more. [pay attention to this info;  there will be a test later. maybe.]

this summer, we received two letters from APS.  the first letter from our superintendent, dated july 9, told us about first day packets (which we can now fill out online at the Student Info Center — yay, arlington! you answered some of my prayers!) also, it hinted at fun things to come in transportation land. APS apparently had hired consultants (motto: got a problem? if not, we’ll show you that you do!) to help figure out the nightmarish transportation conundrums facing a school system that is overcrowded and yet still growing. yes, changes were afoot:

“With the start of the school year this fall, we will be moving forward with the plans that the Office of Transportation has outlined. One of the first steps underway includes the implementation of bus‐routing software to help us plan routes that are more efficient so we can maximize the capacity of our bus fleet.

The second step that is critical to this plan is to serve students who are eligible to receive bus transportation services. As outlined in School Board policy, elementary school students who live more than one mile from school and secondary school students who live more than 1½ miles from school will receive bus transportation.

In early August, principals will be sending families of students who are eligible for transportation services a letter that will include their child’s bus stop and route. This addresses a critical safety concern for students who ride buses and allows us to better communicate and serve families when we may experience a delay or other changes in service.”

hmm. we’re .9 mile from school, but others are more than a mile. i hope we get that info soon, i thought. i will need to plan if my kid loses his school bus. it’s a 20 minute walk to school, barring he doesn’t get run down on North 31st Street (motto: Death Race 2000 wasn’t filmed here, but it could have been), or wiped out walking up our congested main street (the equivalent of 10 flights of stairs while carrying a 35+ pound backpack — yeah, yeah, you walked to school uphill in the snow both ways when you were young. hey, the 1970s called and wants your sad, fat ass back. would love to see some naysaying adults walk this walk with a backpack in either snow or 90+ degree weather during rush hour.) if i walk with him, that’s 80 minutes a day i have to carve out. daily. you know, from my bon-bon eating, soap opera-watching life as a stay-at-home mother. (isn’t that what we stay-at-home-moms do? oh yeah, i do have contract work. and, uh, i dunno. basically keeping things afloat. but i digress. per usual.)

there’s no short-cut to school, unless you consider a wooded park behind our house. and anyone who knows kids knows that given the choice of walking down and up a long, boring, traffic-lined sidewalk with stinky cars all around or walking through a park, well, the park wins. only this park has no path directly to school from our neighborhood. imagine the boy, running first through my kindly neighbor’s yard to get to the park, then crossing the stream that runs through the park, and then, going through a heavily wooded, very hilly area to get to and from school each day! yee ha! only now imagine 20, 30 children doing that each day. and no, we don’t live in east boofoo, nowhereland. we are less than one mile from a major city.

so. not. safe.

and i’m digressing yet again.

fast forward your little time machine to early august. august 3 to be exact. and heeeeere’s another letter. oh goody. i’ll get some clarification, right?

Transportation Assignment Letters: Transportation Services will be mailing letters to the parents of APS students who
are eligible for bus transportation later this month. Please look for your letter in the mail the week of August 20. It will include your child’s bus route number, bus stop and pickup time. The lower portion of the letter includes a “voucher.” Please be sure to tear it off and have your child carry it and present it to the driver when boarding the bus.

Walker Letters: A separate letter will be mailed for children who live in the school “walk zone.” Bus transportation is available only for students who are eligible for transportation and have received a transportation “voucher” in the mail. Otherwise, we hope you will encourage your student to walk or bike to school – this is a healthier option and will also help our environment by reducing the number of cars transporting students to and from school. Information about biking or walking to school is available online at www.apsva.us/schoolwalkmaps or www.walkarlington.com.

whatwhatWHAT? so let me get this straight: you MAY BE taking away my child’s bus, but i won’t know until i receive a letter posted august 20th? seriously? half of arlington is on vacation in late august; we are tied to the congressional vacation schedule, and you people know it. so you are sending information that is critical at a time when tons of affected parties aren’t around? and even if they are, you are giving people roughly two weeks to figure out how exactly to collect their children from a school that is already wildly congested at pick-up time as is? there is no parking, people. it is a safety disaster that is nearly averted every single day of the year. and now, you are adding MORE CARS to the picture?

let me go to the Student Info Center. i’m SURE there will be answers there. let’s see… BC has a middle school bus assignment, which is good since her middle school is a 10-minute drive from here, and that’s with miss jerseygirl driver at the wheel. let’s have a look-see at jools’ info:

To School: Information cannot be found relating to how this student is transported to school.

From School: Information cannot be found relating to how this student is transported from school.

uhm, so let me get this straight. are you replacing buses with star trek transporters? because i don’t see a bus stop here. i don’t see anything here.  i talk with a friend in another neighborhood, and she indicates that her former bussed students are now being designated as walkers.

this doesn’t look good.

so, i call the transportation answer center, the one proudly mentioned in one of the aforementioned letters. the one that’s supposed to help me, right? answers? the lady who answered the phone there had no answers for me. none.

so i went with some parents from a nearby-neighborhood who are in the same boat that i’m in. off we trekked to the APS school board meeting to learn about the new transportation plan. i listened carefully to what the director of transportation said. and i still have no answers. i *did* hear someone say that the children are getting bus PASSES to ride busses and not bus VOUCHERS (which, i believe, is what they were called in one of the aforementioned APS letters.) and all i kept thinking was, really? my kid can’t always remember to bring home his homework. how long do you think it will be before my kid loses THAT? (assuming he is even on a bus, that is.) i even got up to speak about my situation, and other concerned parents spoke, too. i understand that only certain schools are affected by losing some busstops. is it just that our school has more helicopter parents who recognized this and jumped on it? are we just canaries in the coal mine?

(sorry. i love the police.)

anyway, i am left perplexed. this process never involved me or any parents i know. it is greatness thrust upon us, with very little time to make arrangements. this is not a matter of people being too lazy to walk. some of these kids will be walking down major streets with no sidewalks. some of these kids will be crossing streets where cars don’t even stop when a school bus has it’s flashing red lights on (North 31st Street, I’m looking at YOU.) according to the transportation director’s remarks last night at the meeting, the school district has added 1000 new students to its rolls this year but 0 new busses. Zero. Zilch. (maybe, children WILL be using star trek transporters to get to and from homeroom.) and, to paraphrase a quote that sage of sages bart simpson, he was proud of it, man.

it just takes one little kid to become road pizza and then your big ol’ cost savings on a bus goes out the window, folks.

can’t wait for these infamous bus/walker letters to get received. i bet when other parents discover — SURPRISE! — that their little kids are now walkers that there will be more  gnashing of teeth, shock and awe.

in the meantime, i feel like APS is taking people like me for a ride.

5 thoughts on “bus stop

  1. Sounds very confuse. Please to explain?

    Seriously, I’m with you – for major changes like whether or not there’s a bus, for heaven’s sake, they should have notified everyone before T minus One Week. A significant number of families will roll in from their beach week next Saturday and sort through their giant pile of mail – or not, if they placed a hold. Surprise!

    It’s mind-boggling that there would be 1000 new enrollees yet no additional buses.

    I’ll be watching the Post next Tuesday morning for the fallout.

  2. My suggestion if they don’t cave before school starts and give you back your bus: Walk with him to school one morning and videotape it the whole way: the nonstop traffic, walking on the side of the road where there’s no sidewalk, how long the wait is for cars to stop at the major intersection, the angle of the hill you have to walk up/down, and so on. If you can, get lots of shots of his fellow walkers, the younger the better.

    And then edit it as appropriate, post it to YouTube, and send it to the local TV news and print reporters who cover the local school system. Oh, and also send it to the local superintendent of schools or whoever is the decision maker about the bus system. Then sit back and wait for the shit to fly.

  3. You are right on with this very entertaining but oh…so…true blog! I sent a letter to the school board and copied Hindman, suggesting that THEY try this commute at 8:45 a.m. on a school morning, starting from Cherrydale Methodist Church, driving up Nellie Custis from there onto Military…where yes, they’ll have to wait at least 10 minutes for their chance to turn left onto N. 26th Rd. Then they will still have to wait another five minutes at least to make that left turn even when first in line…unless one of the thousands of oncoming cars has mercy and flashes its lights to let you turn OR the crossing guards stops oncoming traffic for you…you get the picture. And now, because the guard will have to stop traffic every two minutes for kids crossing instead of twice every 20 minutes or so, the traffic will back up for a couple of miles both ways…then when you finally get to turn right onto Walker/Stuart street to go to the “kiss and learn” lane, you will have to wait another 10 minutes to get through that line-up. Then people get impatient and antsy and start doing u-turns perilously in front of other people’s crossing kids or simply backing up to turn around, almost mowing down a few kids. Others let their kids out onto the street to dodge between parked cars because of impatience with the “kiss and learn” back up. So, I ask the school folks…you REALLY want to add 30+ more cars to this frenzy? I can tell you this IS dangerous to anyone on foot. And it WILL cause accidents involving both cars and pedestrians. And the many non-Arlington commuters who totally disregard speed limits on Military Rd are not going to make safe decisions behind the wheel. And Taylor has 150 more kids now than it did 10-15 years ago…yikes! One crossing guard is not a solution! I challenged the school board members to act as a Taylor family trying to drive a child to school and see how realistic this is…not!! And are you seriously thinking that people are actually going to have their children walk? Nope — I predict 90% will hop in their cars (I know I will!!) and add more chaos to the already clogged and dangerous scenario around Taylor school. Forget about parking…I’ll just leave my car in the middle of the street to go in and fetch my kid at the end of the school day, because I can tell you there will be nowhere to park. And my son is not mature enough to maneuver the walk home alone after school (as his friends are all in extended day). There are many “strangers” commuting through there every day, and it is not safe for young children to walk through there alone. I know none of those school board members would have his/her child walk alone through there, and with their high-brow jobs awaiting them each day, surely wouldn’t have 40+ minutes a day to devote to walking with their children to and from school each day…this is just a BAD, BAD idea on so many levels. Think about it, school board!! With the legions of lawyers in this county, you will get sued when some poor child gets mowed down.

  4. How about cutting off bus service for all those kids who go to magnet schools? Why should their choice to go to school across the county be more important than my kid getting to school safely? We could save a lot of taxpayer money if people who opt for schools outside their neighborhood school were required to provide their own transportation. Oh, yeah…I forgot that most of the school board members have kids at schools like Science Focus and ATS. Guess that will never be considered as a solution…

  5. Well done! I’m furious they are so obstinate about this half-baked plan that was formulated on inconclusive data and then poorly Communicated. Totally inconsiderate and open disregard for people impacted.
    I’d like to ask them to walk that mile EVERYDAY with a 5 year old and then another mile to work. It’s an arbitrary radius, and a half mile to long, for both hs and elementary.

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