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Bethel Public Schools New Bus Routes & Schedules Combine Wide Age Groups on Buses – Is Lower Cost Favored Over Safety?

Report by Paula Antolini, October 31, 2019, 7:38AM EDT

On October 29, 2019 the Bethel Public Schools sent an email to “Parents, Staff, and Students” indicating changes to the bus routes and time schedules, including what age groups would now ride together on the buses after these changes take place.

The email said that, “During the 2017-2018 school year, Bethel Public Schools had a committee meet to look at the research on Start Times and the effects on secondary students” but makes no mention of the results of those “effects” that were discussed, or how they were determined, and by individuals with what kinds of credentials. Also, was there any parental input? The email mentions “families” but were they participants on boards or was that merely a survey? And how many parents participated in either?

One of the reasons school officials list for the changes, that combines different ages groups on the same buses, is that, “It enhances the ability to share resources between schools, leading to the potential for greater efficiencies.” This means 11-year-olds can be on the bus with 18-year-olds and so on. No mention is made of safety factors in combining different age groups, psychological or influential effects, or even safety factors in general, such as monitoring students, when we asked Dr. Christine Carver the following questions (see below). We only received the forwarded parent email (also below) as a response to our questions, so all questions NOT yet answered, despite them already being asked, are shown in bold (mostly questions about safety issues and how things were decided and evaluated):

  • Will you be combining all grade levels on the same buses such as middle school with high school or any other combination of age groups?
  • What factors did you take into consideration when revising the bus routes?  What took priority?
  • Are there cameras on buses to photograph or record the interior? What security is on the bus?
  • What measures are taken to screen the bus drivers and check on backgrounds (regarding everything)? I mean by the school, in addition to the bus company, if they also do screening. Can you tell me about both? Or does the school district take the word of the bus company on this and if so is there any written paperwork regarding the vetting of the bus drivers? 
  • Are students with discipline problems (especially repeated) allowed to ride the bus?

We are presently waiting for a second reply from Dr. Carver regarding these unanswered questions, especially wondering why she did not answer the questions about safety factors.

Anyone who has had high schoolers on a school bus has probably heard stories of what goes on during the bus ride (directly from their children) and part of it is heavy foul language, among many other factors. Also of concern is the influence of what topics the older students talk about in front of the young students, inappropriate for young students (or any student for that matter).

So it is a mystery as to where the school officials get the following statement from: “All of those districts report that the high school students have a stronger positive influence on middle school students’ behavior on the bus.” What professional study was done and how, to arrive at that conclusion? It simply appears that school officials weighed “the average contractual cost of a bus over $60,000 plus gas” over any consideration of the reality of what actually takes place on school buses, physically or mentally, or the school officials having an actual professional study done by having a professional ride on all buses for a year etc. to determine truthful factors. Is Lower Cost Favored Over Safety?

No official reports are ever issued about the problems experienced on school buses because the school cites student privacy laws. But they certainly can indicate safety measures in place and they don’t. Why is it that school buses do not have buckled seat belts as a mandatory requirement for riding the bus? … is one that cones to mind. Once again, Is Lower Cost Favored Over Safety? Another is vetting bus drivers. Why is this information so difficult to obtain? This is about our precious children.

In the email school officials indicated they did “research on start times and the effects on student achievement” but once again, where are these actual studies? Who did them and when/how? Where are the professional studies on safety factors or student interaction between different age groups?

The school’s aim is to have all changes in place by Fall 2020. “The Board of Education will not vote on a change in bell schedule until its regular meeting in November,” reads the email.  “So if you would like to provide any input, please put it in writing using the Proposed School Start Times Schedule Form by November 15th.”  They will NOT be monitoring social media they said, so you need to write your concerns to them before the board meets.

Read full email below.

*****
BETHEL PUBLIC SCHOOLS EMAIL:

October 29, 2019

Dear Parents, Staff, and Students,

As has been previously communicated, during the 2017-2018 school year, the Bethel Public Schools had a committee meet to look at the research on Start Times and the effects on secondary students.   We felt it was appropriate to have the discussion, as we knew we were moving to put all of our elementary schools (Rockwell, Berry, and Johnson) on the same schedule with the opening of the newly renovated Johnson School in the Fall of 2020.

The research on start times and the effects on student achievement is not significant until you reach 8:30 AM.   Reaching that goal is impossible without doubling our fleet of buses. With the average contractual cost of a bus over $60,000 plus gas, it was not realistic to propose that type of change (total cost estimated approximately $1.4 million dollars).  In addition, we had to consider homework expectations, athletic schedules, after school work, and timing of the elementary runs.   

We presented to the Board of Education the following proposed schedule based on feedback from the committee, staff, and families.  The feedback came from surveys and parent forums. The committee made the recommendation for the following reasons:  

  • No impact to athletic or work schedules.
  • Makes slight increase to high school start time by approximately 15-20 minutes.  
  • While middle school starts slightly earlier, it matches the time they currently arrive.  
  • Elementary start and end times are earlier.  
  • With high school and middle school on the same time schedule, it enhances the ability to share resources between schools, leading to the potential for greater efficiencies.  

There  are important considerations to note in this new model.   The first is that middle and high school students will be on the same run.   Many school districts use this model (Newtown, Region 12, Region 14, etc.). All of those districts report that the high school students have a stronger positive influence on middle school students’ behavior on the bus.   In addition, not many of our high school students ride the bus and/or do not socially interact with other students while riding the bus.  

In addition, not due to any change in model, but due to overall increases in enrollment, we likely will need to add an additional bus to the fleet for the next school year.  We have tried rerouting bus routes and creating double runs, but the length of the runs and the crowding continues to be a concern. Again, this is due to enrollment and not changes in the schedule.  

The Board of Education will not vote on a change in bell schedule until its regular meeting in November.  If you would like to provide any input, please put it in writing using the Proposed School Start Times Schedule Form by November 15th.  Please note, we will not be monitoring social media for feedback, only what is submitted on the form.  I will ensure that your input is provided to the Board before a final decision is made.  

If you have any additional questions about the proposed time schedule, please do not hesitate to email (carverc@bethel.k12.ct.us) or call me.  

Sincerely,

Christine L. Carver Ed. D.  

Superintendent of Schools