OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A change in the busing policy at two Johnson County school districts has some parents concerned for their children’s safety.
“With no sidewalk, on a busy road — and what if it’s dangerously cold outside. What if it’s lightning outside? Those kids are walking,” parent Jennifer Howerton said.
These are just some of the questions Blue Valley School District parents are asking following the change to busing policy.
Approved this week, the district will no longer offer transportation to middle and high school students who live within 2.5 miles of their schools.
Olathe Public Schools made a similar change last week. The district will eliminate roughly 35 bus routes next year as Olathe stops providing transportation for middle school and high school students living less than 2.5 miles from their school.
The policies will take effect next school year in an attempt to reduce the burden on the districts’ busing systems, which are struggling to stay fully staffed.
Blue Valley administration argues they’re already having major transportation issues, saying failures are being reported on a daily basis, with lateness and delays affecting students.
But the change could create its own hiccups.
Reeds Street in Overland Park is about 2 miles away from Blue Valley Middle School. The main path to the building is along Nall Avenue.
Kids would have a sidewalk to use at the start, but there are potential hazards. For example, middle school students would have to cross 159th Street where Blue Valley High School student drivers pass through.
Then Nall Avenue narrows.
“It’s just kind of your typical side of a two-lane road that hasn’t been widened yet, so it’s drainage ditch on one side and then kind of a grassy, hilly, muddy space on the other side,” Howerton said.
“It takes 36 minutes for an adult apparently to walk from our home to the middle school,” she said.
Howerton has one child at the middle school and another will be going next school year. They fall within the 2.5 mile radius for no transportation, which the Blue Valley school board approved with a 5-to-1 vote Monday.
“We wouldn’t be talking about this if we didn’t have to,” Blue Valley Schools Deputy Superintendent Kyle Hayden said.
Students with individualized educational plans, or IEPs, and elementary students will not be affected, but Blue Valley leaders said 10 bus routes will be dropped as a result of this change.
If it took effect today, more than 700 Blue Valley kids would be affected, according to a presentation to the board. The Olathe change will impact roughly 2,100 students.
But other routes would, in theory, be better staffed.
“We pulled some levers last year, and quite honestly this is the last lever that we really have to gain efficiencies,” Hayden said.
“And we believe this lever’s going to solve the problem?” one board member asked.
“I would not go so far to say that. That would be a bold statement. It improves the situation,” Hayden said.
But the path is still uncertain.
“My younger son’s going to be 11 when school starts; 11 is young to walk 2 miles in that kind of a situation. Like, through a neighborhood, fine — but then crossing 159th and Nall and then walking in a ditch — it’s unsustainable,” Howerton said.