OTTUMWA — School board members said there don’t appear to be any easy solutions to transportation and safety issues involving shuttle buses used for students.
Under Iowa law, elementary students are entitled to transportation to and from classes if they live two miles or more from the school. That figure is three miles for high school students. In Ottumwa, shuttles are used closer in than those distances, but there are significant concerns.
One of the issues is the number of disciplinary issues on the shuttles. According to officials, a majority of the incidents that lead to disciplinary measures take place on the shuttles.
“What happens to a student who is referred?” asked Bill Allen.
The answer is that it depends on the cause and whether the student has had previous disciplinary referrals. But enforcing a suspension from the shuttles is difficult. They’re not the same as regular school buses, so the drivers often don’t know the students as well. Some students kicked off one shuttle have simply gotten onto another.
And that leads into another concern. Since the shuttles are not the same as regular buses, it is much more difficult to track who is on which bus. That worried Gary Granneman
“This is a nightmare safety-wise if you can’t tell me where kids are getting on or getting off,” he said.
The district has options, including possible ID cards that use a chip to track when they get on or off a shuttle. But those only work if students remember to use them, and even then it could be an imperfect solution.
Cutting off transportation to students within two miles of the school would alter the equation, but not all the changes would be positive. Such a step would likely increase traffic coming to the schools during times for pickup and drop off of students. And some parents simply wouldn’t have transportation for the students.
That made board members, including Michael Carpenter, uncomfortable.
“How many of these kids are going to be walking more than a mile home, in all kinds of weather, unsupervised?” Carpenter said.
Tuesday’s presentation wasn’t intended to lead to an immediate decision, but rather to bring board members up to speed. There was a clear consensus from board members that some changes are needed, but not what those changes should be. And most board members said they see potential problems no matter what is done.
There is not a lot of time to make decisions. Superintendent Nicole Kooiker said the board needs to keep in mind it will need to communicate whatever it decides to students and parents before the new school year begins.
“We definitely need something different by the fall. And if we go with the committee recommendation, the two mile, three mile, there’s a lot of communication we need to do,” Kooiker said.