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Braintree parent and school at odds over transportation policy

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  September 24, 2012 02:18 PM

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For Braintree resident Denise McDonough, the idea that her five-year-old daughter Alora has to walk to school is ridiculous.

Because the family lives within a mile of Morrison school, where Alora attends all day kindergarten, bus rides are not offered or available.

As a result, Alora is classified as a “walker”, and must be escorted to and from school by an adult. Yet for McDonough, who lives on Liberty Street, the reality is much more complicated.

Both of the girl's parents head off to their jobs long before their daughter needs to be in the school building, McDonough said, and although McDonough’s mother is able to help send the five-year-old off in the morning and greet her after school, the grandmother is too old to walk or drive the child to school herself.

“Right now it’s the first week of school, and my husband has missed three days of work because he hasn’t had anyone to bring her to or from school,” McDonough said.

McDonough would ask neighbors to help, but their children attend private school, and the one family on her street with a child attending kindergarten at Morrison wasn’t able to help, she said.

The only solution was to pay for the bus to pick up her child. But even that isn’t possible, McDonough said.

“Every town on the South Shore provides busses as long as their parents are willing to pay, no matter the age. No school on the South Shore refuses a kindergartner a bus,” she said. “The school keeps saying get daycare, but we cant afford it, and my husband never knows when he’s going to work or not going to work, and no day care is going to [administer to] that.”

McDonough said she has gone to talk to the School Committee about her problem and has chatted with several Braintree School officials, yet all tell her the same thing – you cannot get a bus.

Business Manager Peter Kress echoed the sentiment in a recent phone interview.

“This student lives .5 miles from school. It is a kindergarten child. I wouldn’t want my 5-year-old walking up the street to school; No one does that anymore. But there are a lot of kids that have to walk,” Kress said. “If my kids were young, it would be tough. … [but] we just couldn’t pick them all up. It would cost a lot of money to transport kids that live closer than that.”

According to Kress, the state rule is if you live in excess of 2 miles and are in grades k-6, the town needs to provide transportation. Braintree has gone beyond that, transporting kids in grades k-6 that live more than a mile. At the middle school level, students that live beyond two miles are guaranteed transportation. At the high school, students must live beyond three miles.

Eight years ago, the school also started charging students in grades six through 12 about $1 a day to ride the bus, or $180 a year. Students in the younger grades currently don’t have to pay.

Although McDonough has suggested raising the bus prices for students, Kress says the answer isn’t so simple.

“We’re not a transit system. We go where the kids are and would have to establish routes. If a parent wants to pay $180, we need to find a way to make that a part of a route or make a route, which would cost more than $180,” Kress said. “If the School Committee so desired us to do that, then there would be a major cost, but that hasn’t been the School Committee’s decision.”

In total, there are 68 assigned walkers at Morrison school, which has 425 kids total. Although the school has helped make arrangements for some students in the past, it is done on a case-by-case basis, Kress said.

And although some parents are unhappy with the transportation policy from time to time, there has never been massive discontent about it.

“In my 14 years here, there has not been a groundswell. Once in awhile we might have an issue. I can’t say it never happens, but it’s rare. There hasn’t been a bit push at school committee to revise what we’re doing with kindergarten students, it is the policy of the school committee if you live within a mile, you need to get yourself to school,” Kress said.

The answer hasn’t been good enough for McDonough, who said that Liberty Street in general is too dangerous for anyone to be walking on consistently.

“At this point, it’s not just about Alora anymore. Even the parents that walk their children are walking down this street – there was a major accident on Friday a few houses up from the school. That came six days after the attempted abduction. It’s not safe for the parents, children. It’s a main road, and I think they need to make [bus transportation] more accessible to other families. It’s not safe, plain and simple,” she said.

McDonough said she is planning to fight until things change, and will continue to go to School Committee meetings until something is done.

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