Opinion
School Climate & Safety Opinion

In the Dark About Early Morning School Buses

By J.H. Snider — January 04, 2013 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Lots of apps, such as Transit Stop, iNextBus, and Embark DC, now let you track public-transit schedules. But they are restricted to public transit used by adults. Why can’t a similar app exist for public school buses, likely the most widely used public-transit system in the United States? And, more specifically, why can’t prospective homeowners or renters easily learn the school bus times associated with different properties?

For many well-documented reasons concerning the health, education, and safety of their children (a compendium of such resources may be found at StartSchoolLater.net), many parents don’t want to live in a neighborhood where their children would have to board predawn buses for most of the school year. For example, Fairfax County, Va., and Montgomery County, Md.,—both Washington suburbs—have large parent-dominated movements seeking later bus and high school start times. Most Fairfax public high school students start their day at 7:20 a.m.; Montgomery’s, at 7:25 a.m. Many buses start their routes an hour before schools start, and Fairfax has one bus that starts as early as 5:45 a.m. Seeking later start times, thousands of Fairfax County and Montgomery County residents have recently signed petitions pressing for change.

School districts assert that they cannot publicly release school bus-route data because it would be used by child predators. But I haven’t been able to find a single piece of evidence to back up this claim. The defense also appears remarkably arbitrary: It would be easy for a motivated stranger to learn when buses arrive for kids, and countless after-school activities, including outdoor sports, already widely publicize their schedules.

A better explanation for the lack of public bus-route data is that school districts recognize that predawn bus routes reflect child-unfriendly budget priorities.

Consider this: I took a list of the nation’s “top 20 prep schools,” as selected by Forbes magazine in 2010, and looked up when their days began—not one started regular classroom instruction before 8 a.m. At the same time, many poor public school districts also can somehow afford later start times.

Many parents don’t want to live in a neighborhood where their children would have to board predawn buses for most of the school year."

Reflecting the political embarrassment associated with early bus routes, not only are the final bus routes publicized as little as possible, but the whole process of establishing such routes is often shrouded in secrecy.

The primary driver of ever-earlier bus routes (and corresponding early school start times) is transportation-cost reduction. Using a single bus for as many routes and pickups as possible saves money. Consider a district that finds itself with a budget shortfall.

Since the transportation budget is discretionary and lacks a well-organized constituency to protect it, it’s a prime target for raiding, which leads to earlier bus times. Meanwhile, to minimize opposition, districts give parents minimal public notice of the proposed changes.

Those harmed the most are typically the poorest, most educationally at risk students. Others, usually the most privileged, can compensate thanks to parents who either buy cars for their kids or drive their children to school.

As part of the Obama administration’s push for data-driven public school accountability, public school systems should be required to disclose their bus-route data in a well-structured, standardized format on the Internet, just as public-transit systems already do.

Similarly, the process for establishing guidelines for earliest school bus times should be subject to the same type of public notice and comment already required for public school calendars.

In choosing a home, parents shouldn’t be blind-sided about an issue such as public school bus routes that could prove vital to the safety, health, education, and happiness of their children. Taxpayers deserve accessible information about public bus routes for children as well as adults.

A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2013 edition of Education Week as Why Are Parents Left in the Dark About Early School Buses?

Events

Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
The School to Workforce Gap: How Are Schools Setting Students Up For Life & Lifestyle Success?
Hear from education and business leaders on how schools are preparing students for their leap into the workforce.
Content provided by Find Your Grind
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
The Key to Better Learning: Indoor Air Quality
Learn about the importance of improved indoor air quality in schools, and how to pick the right solutions for educators, students, and staff.
Content provided by Delos

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Q&A How a Student's Push to End Paddling in Schools Became a Yearslong Civics Lesson
A student advocate pushed to end corporal punishment in his state—and gained a passion for civic involvement in the process.
7 min read
Image of a paddle.
dannikonov/Getty
School Climate & Safety ‘Their Vote Matters’: Schools Provide Training to Students on Working the Polls
“We just want to make sure that our youth ... know that they’re important, their vote matters, their vote counts, they can get involved."
Jenny Roberts, The Morning Call
4 min read
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.
Amy Shortell/The Morning Call via TNS
School Climate & Safety A Parkland Dad Pleads for Action on School Safety
A father whose daughter was killed in the 2018 mass shooting spoke at a summit the day after the gunman was sentenced.
3 min read
A women in a black t-shirt lifts small painted stones out of a cardboard box, placing them on the ground at a memorial covered in flowers in front of a large white masonry sign that says "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School."
Suzanne Devine Clark, an elementary school art teacher, places painted stones at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2019, one year after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
School Climate & Safety A School Safety Challenge: Keeping Crowds Secure Under the Glare of Friday Night Lights
Districts aim to keep students and spectators safe during sporting events, which draw large crowds to a less predictable environment.
5 min read
A police officer stands between rows of caution tape outside of a white high school football stadium that is brightly lit against the night sky.
A Tulsa Police officer films the area outside of the McLain High School football stadium in Tulsa, Okla., after a shooting during a Sept. 30 football game.
Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP