Sanger School District Cuts Bus Stops, Impacting Parents

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Sanger Unified cut several school bus stops this year without notice to parents, many of whom are field workers who said they now had to choose between supporting their families financially or sending their children to school. (file photo)

Sanger Unified cut several school bus stops this year without notice to parents, many of whom are field workers who said they now had to choose between supporting their families financially or sending their children to school.

In an interview with The Bee’s Education Lab, a district official said he didn’t know how many bus stops were cut or how many of the district’s roughly 13,000 students were affected. Sanger Unified said all of the eliminated bus stops were “courtesy” stops that the district was never legally required to provide.

Parents who spoke to the school board are angry.

“You are forcing parents to choose whether to go to work or send the children to school,” said Olga Loza, a community organizer with the Dolores Huerta Foundation, who said she was contacted by angry parents.

The district’s elected school board has remained silent on the issue. No council member answered questions from community members at two separate school board meetings in August. And all administrators declined to comment on The Bee’s education lab, did not respond, or referred all questions to the district’s communications department.

The parents asked the district to reverse the decision at a council meeting in late August.

Without intending to do so, the Sanger Unified administration insists that the changes are consistent for all families.

Why did Sanger Unified reduce bus stops?

The families said they were not notified but should check the timetables of bus lines posted online about two weeks before the August 17 debut of Sanger.

“You weren’t responsible for letting us know we weren’t going to have transportation,” said Maria Gonzalez, a mother of five who said she didn’t learn of the bus changes until a week before school started. .

Even employees weren’t told about the change or why the decision was made, according to Stephanie Alvarado, president of the Sanger Unified Teachers Association.

Listening to the parents during the meetings of August 9 and 23, it was the first time that she had heard of the bus stop cuts.

“I still don’t think teachers even know what’s going on,” she said in a recent interview with The Bee’s Education Lab.

It was a combination of many things, but not a budgetary reason, said Eduardo Martinez, the assistant superintendent of administrative services.

The district has pushed back its school hours due to the new California state mandate that middle schools cannot start until 8 a.m. and high schools cannot start until 8:30 a.m. Like districts such as Clovis and Central Unified, elementary school schedules have also been pushed back. back to accommodate buses picking up one age group, taking them to school, then carrying the next age group.

Additionally, Sanger High students are bussed from the Sanger West area so that they can complete their high school careers in Sanger rather than the new high school.

Due to these new constraints on bus transportation, the district has implemented its Administrative Regulation Policy which states that students within a certain mile of their schools are not eligible for bus transportation.

“All of these requests strained the system to be able to adapt, and as a result, these courtesy stops that were in the no-carry zone were not sustainable,” Martinez said.

Current policy defines eligibility based on student grade and distance from home to school:

  • One mile for kindergarten

  • One and a quarter miles for grades 1 to 3

  • Two miles for students in grades 4 to 8

  • Two and a half miles for students in grades 9 to 12

Martinez said that over time, the district narrowed that radius to:

  • Half a mile to kindergarten

  • Three quarter mile for grades 1-3

  • A mile and a half for students in grades 4 to 8

  • Two miles for high school students

But the current online policy does not reflect the reduced radius the district says it uses.

Unsure of when the policy was created, Martinez referenced his own time as a student in the 70s and 80s and said there had always been a no-travel zone.

Despite the policy, the district has been picking up students from the no-traffic zone for years, Martinez acknowledged.

“Those courtesies could not be maintained,” Martinez said.

Sanger’s parents say the district left them in a tough spot

Board Policy says the district provides bus transportation “as needed to ensure student access to the educational program, promote regular attendance, and reduce delays.” Those things could be in play with cut bus stops, community organizer Loza told the Sanger Unified School Board.

Florinda Rodriguez has two students from Jefferson Elementary. To get to work, she usually asks someone to pick them up and pick them up at the bus stop. This person cannot walk to school from the bus stop.

Justina Rosales has two high school students, one student at Washington Academic Middle School and three students at Jefferson Elementary. Working in the fields, Rosales sent her children to school by bus – until the stop was cut.

Now students have to walk to school regardless of the weather, such as days with over 100 degrees or rain, parents said.

Beatriz Cabellos left work early so her child wouldn’t have to walk in the heat.

“I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to do this without getting fired,” she said.

“You don’t see all of that,” Loza told the board. “And you don’t see that affecting parents – low-income families.”

Martinez suggested families use the district’s family resource center, which provides support and can “mitigate” the circumstances.

“Many” affected communities

Several areas in the district lost the stops, but Martinez said he didn’t know how many people were cut or how many people were affected, saying it was “many” communities.

Frustrated and desperate for answers from the district, Gonzalez collected 109 signatures from families who use bus transportation in the Jefferson Elementary and Washington Academic Middle School neighborhoods.

A community of about 10 families who live in a rural area but had a bus stop that took their children to Centerville Elementary School for the bilingual program was also affected.

At the August 9 Sanger Unified board meeting, Samantha Bautista called this a challenge for families.

Bautista said she now has to transport her two children to schools that start at the same time but 20 minutes apart because the bus will no longer pick up her first-grader. The district will still take her daughter to the bilingual program at Centerville Elementary, but only if Bautista takes her to her zone school.

Sanger Unified offers similar bus transportation for students attending a charter school; if they arrive at their zone school, a bus will take them to the charter school.

The changes allow Sanger Unified to adhere to its policy, Martinez said.

“It applies to everyone consistently,” he said.

Parents criticize Sanger Unified communications

The school board also received public comments online, noting its lack of communication about other changes, including transferring students to other schools.

And this isn’t the first time parents have complained about district communication. The school board and school district administration have been criticized for a lack of communication in the elimination of one of its school charters.

The district’s elected administrators have refused to discuss the matter, with some even refusing to acknowledge it.

Board chairman Brandon Vang said he had no comment and referred questions to the district’s public relations department.

Board member Tammy Wolfe, who was absent from the meeting, said she was ill and did not comment.

Board member Va Her was also absent from the meeting and did not respond to a request for comment.

Board members Jesse Solorio, Jesse Vasquez and Peter Filippi did not respond to requests for comment.

After the meeting, board member Mike Hernandez told the Education Lab he was glad the parents came to the meeting, but said he couldn’t comment because the school system was still working. On the question.

Community members also said that all limited information from the district was exclusively in English.

“It’s a (mostly) Latino community,” Loza said. “You have to be prepared. They have to be able to figure it all out.”

Of Sanger Unified’s 11,091 students, 7,847 (70%) are Hispanic, based on 2021 state data. Just over 15% are English learners.

Bus stops not coming back, says Sanger Unified

Despite the anger and frustration expressed by parents, the district has no plans to restore bus stops, saying it would violate district transportation policy.

Reducing the mileage radius even further for eligible students is also not within the district’s “immediate reach,” according to Martinez. It’s not “feasible” to do this for 20 schools, he explained, noting the demand it would have on operations.

“We take every family’s contribution very seriously and we’re not going to dismiss them,” Martinez said. “But it’s important to be consistent and support all of our communities at all times.”

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Lasherica Thornton is the engagement reporter for the Fresno Bee Education Lab in Fresno. She was previously an Education Reporter at the Jackson Sun, a Gannett newspaper and USA Today Network in Jackson, TN for over three years.

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