FARGO, N.D. (Valley News Live) - Back-to-school time is rolling in—but the buses won't be rolling for some of your kids. Several parents in the West Fargo school district contacted our Whistleblower Hotline after recently finding out that their children now won't have a school bus this year.
Courtney Stanley's kids are headed into first and second grades at Osgood Elementary School. The school is technically in Fargo, but it’s in the West Fargo school district.
Google Maps says the shortest walking distance to the school is 1.2 miles miles from Stanley’s home.
"They had a bus last year, the year before," she said.
But a few days ago, Stanley found out that this year, her kids will have to walk. But they won't be walking alone.
"At the school, there was another mom near me who was also told that they're no longer bus eligible. And she works and has three kids and she's doing it on her own and she just broke down,” Stanley said. “'Cuz she doesn't know what she's gonna do."
Seven-year-old, Aya Mahmoud, lives just less than a mile away. Last year, when she was in kindergarten, a bus took her to school. This year, due to changes, she won’t have one.
"I can't have a bus because my school is right by my home," she said.
Aya’s mother, Amal Nasir, says she’ll have no car to drive her daughter, as her husband will be working—leaving her seven-year-old to walk nearly a mile in the subzero winter temperatures.
"I don't have a ride, we have just only one car...it's long way, you know, how we can cross the street in the snow time," she said.
"It's not like it's a new neighborhood, with new paths and sidewalks for the kids to all walk down, surrounded by, you know, residential homes,” Stanley said. “They're walking on big, long city blocks."
When mom of five, Ashley Snyder, moved to the Osgood neighborhood this past July, she was told her kids would all have buses. When she called the school to double check, she was told the opposite.
"We moved here thinking that I had a bus.” she said. “My kids can't walk, and she said that they don't advise families to have their kids walk. That's up to the families. But I also told her I can't drive or afford to have a taxi come pick my kids up every day from school."
The school says it sent out letters to parents back in November and then again this past May. The letters say there will be bus route changes—but say nothing about certain areas losing bus routes.
In an email, the school says, it "...has utilized 0.9 mile as their walk zone for at least the last two decades. There have been no changes to our policies or guidelines for this school year."
But even if the policy itself didn't change, the school has: the school chalks up the lost bus routes to the fact Osgood Elementary previously taught K through second grade—this year the school goes all the way up to fifth grade.
Another Osgood mom, Crystal Abrao, says her daughter went to Independence Elementary last year.
Independence is closer to her home, and last year had a bus route. This year, the schools moved Abrao’s daughter to Osgood Elementary—it’s farther away, and no longer has a bus route from her home.
"I told them basically, she's gonna have a lot of absent days because there's no way for her to get to school," Abrao said.
Abrao says Independence Elementary no longer has a bus route in her area either—but at least it would be a bit closer to her home.
"It really bothers me a lot that our kids just keep getting pushed around...especially here,” Abrao said. “You know, there's no reason for not a bus to come here. There's tons of kids in these apartments and neighborhoods that need that."
On top of the inconvenience is the general confusion: parents tell us some of their neighbors have been assured by the school that they have a bus route, when the website says they do not. We plugged in some of their neighbors’ addresses, and they all came up as walk zones for Osgood Elementary. But just before this story aired, we went to plug the addresses in again—and the website was down. The school tells us some of the addresses say they are walk zones when they may not be.
Some parents tell us they plan a petition drive and will deliver it at the next school board meeting, later this month.
If you’d like to check your bus eligibility (once the website is working again), head here: https://www.west-fargo.k12.nd.us/Page/1159 Then click on “Bus Route Identification System,” mid-page, under “Find your bus route.”
Be sure to follow the guidelines of exactly how to enter your address, or you may receive an error.
Below is the whole email the school sent Valley News Live:
To supplement the notes you took during our phone conversation, here is a summary of what I told you in the three biggest areas:
Walk Versus Bus Zone
WFPS has utilized 0.9 mile as their walk zone for at least the last two decades. There have been no changes to our policies or guidelines for this school year. An interesting fact…most districts in ND offer bussing to rural students only. Of those that offer urban bussing, 0.9 mile is a very common radius to see, even in our northern climates.
Attendance Zone Changes
With the opening of Willow Park Elementary, and the transition of all elementary schools to being K-5 buildings, it was necessary for the district to redraw boundary lines for the 2018-19 school year. Redoing boundaries is an unfortunate side effect of the exponential growth WFPS has been experiencing, but an inevitable task to ensure we don’t have some schools over-capacity while others have empty seats. All elementary parents in the district received communication regarding the redrawn boundaries in March [NOTE: this was later amended to November and May]. While this communication did not specifically address each family’s bussing situation, it did share information regarding the new school attendance area for their family.
For the street in question, they were a mixed attendance area last year. The K-2 grade students went to Osgood and the 3-5 students went to Independence. The bus that went down that street was an Independence bus, but since there was room on it, the bus also picked up the Osgood children and dropped them at Osgood before continuing on to Independence. With the boundary changes, all K-5 students on that street will be attending Osgood, which means there will no longer be an Independence bus going through the neighborhood. This street is within the walk zone for Osgood, so bussing services will not be provided to students on that street.
Student Socioeconomic Status
To date, the district has not utilized a student’s socioeconomic status to determine whether or not they qualify for bussing. If the district were to implement a system that looked at socioeconomic status as a factor, it would add significantly to the operations of the transportation department. For example, the district has schools that are 50-60% free and reduced lunch, which would translate into at least that percentage of the school qualifying for bussing, plus any students that live within the existing bus zone. We set our parameters to serve district-wide, so any adjustment would need to be enacted across the district and not just for one area.