Parent has concerns about proposed two-tier bus schedule

Published 9:56 am Wednesday, June 21, 2017

To the Editor:
[Editor’s note: The following is a letter that was sent to the members of the Southampton County School Board.]

I wanted to take this opportunity to have a voice regarding the proposed Two-Tier Bus Schedule that is being considered for the students of Southampton County. I would have liked to have had the opportunity to speak with you in person, however, due to employment obligations I was unable to attend the two recent meetings.

I currently have two children ages 11 and 9 at Meherrin Elementary. In the fall my oldest will be attending Southampton Middle School and my youngest will be in the fourth grade. We live on Rt. 35/Meherrin Road. I am a single mother who depends on bus transportation for arrival to and from school destinations. I also utilize the aftercare program offered at Meherrin Elementary. My children are very active; they play softball, baseball and volleyball. The oldest is involved in the school band, Odyssey of the Mind, National Elementary Honor Society and Spanish Club. My youngest is involved in a local Cub Scout group.

I tell you these things in order for you to have a clear understanding of the impact a two-tiered bus schedule would have on me and my children’s lives.

As a probation officer, I work with people daily who have been at their worst and are now accepting those consequences. When I talk with them one of the common themes for their behavior is opportunity. There are many of us who live in the county who find employment outside of the county. When I look at the proposal for the two-tiered system, I see opportunity. Opportunity for those who want to take advantage of a situation to the fullest. Parents having employment outside of the area means that they are leaving home early and returning home late. This leaves our children vulnerable for others’ opportunity. If we go to the two-tiered system that would mean one of my children would be home alone at some point during the day. This is not acceptable to me. There are options for me and my children on the current schedule. The proposed schedule limits my options.

I currently work in the City of Suffolk. They utilize this two-tiered system. I patrol the downtown area daily and see firsthand the elementary students that are still waiting on the street sidewalks and curbs sometimes as late as 10 a.m. to be picked up for school. They arrive late, they miss precious instruction time and do not get the full benefit of the educational opportunities that should be afforded to them.

I know that Suffolk is not the only district that utilizes this system and that there are other sites for which you all have consulted. Southampton County is not the City of Suffolk. We are not Newport News. We are a geographically large, rural area, which still has residents that struggle with daily luxuries such as transportation. Therefore, we depend heavily on the school system to provide our children with not only the education they are entitled, but also the transportation to get them there.

When we consider our options for transportation we need to consider the children that are in positions that their parent(s) leave home before the bus arrives. Not all of us have adults that can wait at the bus with our children to ensure their safety and that they get on the bus as expected.

Changing school times and/or bus schedules also impacts my children’s extracurricular activities. If they arrive home later in the day they may not be able to participate in the activities they enjoy and thrive in.

There are a lot of unknowns with this proposal: What if there is inclement weather? What if the bus breaks down or what if the driver is out sick? How do we address the children that may be stuck at home with no way into school to get their education if the transportation is unreliable or unavailable?

I would encourage you all to not only talk to the respective school boards who run a similar system, but also talk to the parents and the teachers of these school systems. I think you would have a lot to learn from them.

I would encourage you to talk with Southampton County teachers and give the parents another opportunity to voice their concerns. At no time did anything regarding the two meetings you previously had come home to the parents. At least not for Meherrin Elementary. We are able to send notices via the phone system to notify of school decisions, why not have that same system notify of the meeting regarding the two tiered system. Yes, it was in The Tidewater News, but not everyone subscribes to that publication.

I am not sure what the answer is; it seems to me that the bottom line is that money will need to be found somewhere in the budget or elsewhere to hire bus drivers and provide incentives for them to work for the County. No one wants to pay increased taxes, but sometimes what needs to be done for our children, just needs to be done. Bus drivers, repairs to existing schools, new schools, teachers, materials and supplies, all of these things are needed in our schools. There is a much larger picture here, please take all the concerns and recommendations as constructive criticism. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Kathy Futrell Dunlow