Students living within one mile of school walk to class, but parents are worried about dangers along the way
Instead of riding the bus to and from school, many kids are walking alone this year following changes to the St. Helens School Districts bus system. This has local parents worried about drug houses and sex offenders along the way.
Teri Trainer who has two daughters in 6th grade said when one girl is sick the other one stays home from school too.
Theyre not about to walk to school alone, she said, adding that there have been several incidents when police had to be called.
She has heard local police refer to the path the girls take to McBride Elementary School as drug dealer alley.
The school districts student transportation contract with the First Student bus service expired at the end of last school year. The school board selected Illinois-based Durham School Services to take over transportation responsibilities.
With the change in bus services came a change in routes. A tightening district budget was one of several determining factors when it came to plotting the final routes, said St. Helens School District Business and Transportation Manager Janine Salisbury.
The state of Oregon reimburses the St. Helens School District for roughly 70 percent of transportation costs incurred by busing students who live more than one mile from the schools they attend.
Currently, the students who live within one mile of the schools they attend walk. If the school district wanted Durham to bus these students, it would have to foot the extra costs on its own - something it is currently not able to do, Salisbury said.
Its very unfortunate, Salisbury said. We care about our kids. ... We have concerns about drug houses and sex offenders, specifically, for instance in back of the (Lewis and Clark) middle school.
Last year, Salisbury asked police to conduct random patrols through that area after parents told the school district it was not a safe walking route.
I wish we could bus all our kids, Salisbury said. But, I cant unless we get the 70 percent reimbursement.
She had been working on a supplemental transportation plan to address concerns voiced by parents who were not comfortable with their young children walking certain routes to school.
However, in a conversation with Steve Hewitt, director of people transportation and fingerprinting at the Oregon Department of Education, Salisbury was told the plan would not be approved. So she stopped working on it.
The state has outlined specific reasons for why and how school districts implement supplemental transportation plans and these reasons have to do with physical barriers, such as highway crossings, Hewitt told the Spotlight.
Just because its dark or they dont like the walking path, thats not a valid reason for a supplemental plan, Hewitt said.
But this answer has not satisfied local parents.
Its frustrating as a parent, Trainer said. There are things you dont worry about when theres a bus picking them up.
She has tried to coordinate with other parents who are available during the day to escort children to and from area schools, forming a walking school bus.