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

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
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
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

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 45 Percent of American Adults Support Armed Teachers in Schools, Poll Finds
Survey also shows majority support for armed police, mental health services, and metal detectors as school safety measures.
4 min read
Photo of school security guard.
dlewis33/E+/Getty<br/><br/>
School Climate & Safety Opinion Schools Have Put Their Money on Security Officers. Is That Smart?
After school shootings, people want policymakers to "do something." But is hiring more law enforcement the right thing?
David S. Knight
5 min read
Illustration of two silhouetted heads facing each other, one is wearing a police hat
wildpixel/iStock/Getty Images
School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center How Many Teachers Have Been Assaulted by Students or Parents? We Asked Educators
Some teachers and principals suggest student misbehavior could be associated with challenges related to returning to in-person learning.
1 min read
Empty classroom in blurred background.
Classrooms were empty during long stretches of remote and hybrid instruction. Some educators suggest student behavior problems are linked to the bumpy transition back to in-person learning.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
School Climate & Safety A Sheriff Is Putting AR-15s in Every School. What Safety Experts Have to Say
The Madison County, N.C., school district made headlines for placing assault rifles in SRO offices ahead of the new school year.
6 min read
AR-15-style rifles are on display at Burbank Ammo & Guns in Burbank, Calif., June 23, 2022. Gun manufacturers have made more than $1 billion from selling AR-15-style guns over the past decade, and for two companies those revenues have tripled over the last three years, a House investigation unveiled Wednesday, July 27, found.
AR-15-style rifles are on display at gun store in Burbank, Calif. School safety experts say it's not unheard of for school districts to place such weapons in schools, but it requires serious consideration of the potential risks.
Jae C. Hong/AP