District officials eye changes to busing policy
New Albany-Plain Local school officials say the district must curb its number of daily bus-ride changes.
Michael Sawyers, the district's chief of operations and strategic development, told the school board June 24 the transportation department has received an estimated 20,000 total daily requests to change bus rides each school year since 2010.
Ride changes are requested when students must be dropped off at a location different from the district's records.
School board President Laura Kohler called the number "shocking" and said it is amazing the transportation department has been able to transport students safely given all the requested changes.
"This is a significant liability issue," Sawyers said.
Sawyers said the district currently allows parents to request a bus-ride change daily by calling the school or faxing, emailing or sending a handwritten note.
He said the changes cause problems if the student isn't aware of the change and gets on the wrong bus or if the school is not properly notified.
Sawyers asked the school board to eliminate the daily ride change requests and to implement a standard transportation request form that must be filled out before the school year begins.
The form would include pertinent information, such as an emergency contact if a parent cannot be reached and any joint custody agreements, and allow parents to have students picked up or dropped off at different locations, depending on the day.
The form would be used for the entire school year.
School board Vice President Michael Klein said it might be difficult to figure out joint custody requests that far in advance.
Board member Cheri Lehmann said she shared Klein's concerns but daily requests also could create safety issues. She cautioned Sawyers to be sensitive to shared custody issues.
Sawyers said the district would retain a temporary bus pass for emergencies, such as any accidents, flights that have been delayed or canceled and medical emergencies.
He said temporary bus passes would not be issued for parents who are running late or can't leave work, or to have a child dropped at another home for a play date.
Kohler recommended forming a focus group of parents to get their feedback on Sawyer's suggestions.
The board is expected to discuss the changes again during its monthly work session July 8.
Sawyers also suggested assigning seats on buses within 10 days of the school year's start; enforcing bus stops, where students can be picked up in groups; preventing students from leaving the bus without an adult's permission once they have boarded; and requiring adults who are trying to get a student to leave the bus after the student has boarded to show a photo identification to the driver.
In addition, Sawyers said, the district exceeds the Ohio Revised Code's transportation requirements, which requires schools to transport students who live two miles or farther from the school.
New Albany-Plain Local's policy is to transport all students who live farther than one-half mile's walking distance from a school, but the district currently offers transportation to all students, Sawyers said.