Parents’ pleas heard — busing changes on the way in Barrington

School committee chairwoman: ‘We need to fix it, and we need to fix it now.’

By Josh Bickford
Posted 9/27/21

Changes are coming to the school busing situation in Barrington.

Late last week, Barrington School Committee Chairwoman Gina Bae said the district will be reducing the bus ridership eligibility …

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Parents’ pleas heard — busing changes on the way in Barrington

School committee chairwoman: ‘We need to fix it, and we need to fix it now.’

Posted

Changes are coming to the school busing situation in Barrington.

Late last week, Barrington School Committee Chairwoman Gina Bae said the district will be reducing the bus ridership eligibility distance to 1.5 miles for middle and high school students, and officials will also add more bus stops within that 1.5-mile range for students whose commutes are deemed dangerous.

In short, more Barrington students will be riding buses to school very soon.

Ms. Bae and school committee member Dr. Megan Douglas spoke with district administrators about the busing situation during a policy meeting on Thursday morning, Sept. 23. Ms. Bae said they explained how the district’s recent decision to enforce the 2-mile ridership eligibility rule and eliminate a number of bus stops had negatively impacted students and their families. She and Dr. Douglas told administrators that they had “unintentionally created a huge barrier for families” as they tried to get their kids to school. 

Ms. Bae said the district’s decision had left families and students more stressed about getting to school each day. 

“The more I thought about it, (I thought) this can’t keep happening,” she said. 

Since before school even started, parents have been voicing their concerns about the transportation change. Families that had relied upon school buses to get their children to class were left scrambling after they discovered their children had been ruled ineligible to ride the bus and their stops had been removed. Many parents who were unable to drive their children to school worried about the routes their kids needed to walk or ride their bikes to get to school. The routes included busy streets and intersections, and some roads without sidewalks. 

“It wasn’t just a handful of families,” Ms. Bae said, adding that people across town were impacted. “I felt for the families.

“Their concerns were absolutely valid… That’s what pushed me to keep on it.”

Ms. Bae said some families reached out directly to her and asked for help.

On Thursday morning, Ms. Bae and Dr. Douglas brought parents’ concerns to the district administration. 

“I try to be pretty collaborative,” Ms. Bae said, referring to the school committee’s relationship with administrators. “In this instance, this is not right. This is not OK. We need to fix it, and we need to fix it now.”

Ms. Bae said district administrators said altering the 2-mile rule and adding more bus stops through a policy change could take a couple of months.

“In the meantime, these families are still struggling,” she said. “These are not families that want a bus because they’ve had it for 40 years.”

She said the families impacted truly depend on the buses — the school department provides a crucial service to these families. Ms. Bae said school officials agreed to reduce the bus ridership eligibility distance to 1.5 miles for all middle and high school students. They will also add other bus stops with that 1.5-mile distance if a student’s walking route is not safe.

The changes, Ms. Bae said, will be made immediately. She expected school officials to put out a district-wide email this week. 

“Megan (Douglas) and I were advocating very strongly,” Ms. Bae said. 

The school committee chairwoman said she began anticipating problems from the transportation changes even before students went back to school. She said she discussed the impending issues with district administrators.

Ms. Bae said she asked district leadership why they decided to suddenly enforce the 2-mile eligibility rule this year.

“My sense was that they were trying to make things more efficient,” Ms. Bae said. “…that was the answer I got… we were trying to be efficient. I’m all for efficiency, but…”

Barrington Superintendent of Schools Michael Messore said during a recent interview that administrators were planning to address the busing issues but were first trying to remedy a shortage of bus drivers.

Safety reviews

More than 100 families requested safety reviews for their children’s commutes to school, following the enforcement of the 2-mile rule. 

The vast majority of parents’ requests did not yield changes, and some parents had to wait days for a response. Some parents said they felt like their concerns were not addressed, and many received replies that simply listed the distance from the family’s home to the school. 

“There seems to be a lot of confusion about how safety reviews are conducted,” Ms. Bae said. 

Officials discussed the safety review process during the policy meeting on Thursday morning. Ms. Bae said the district needs to establish specific protocols for the reviews. She said it needs to be clear and should be included on the district’s website or in a handbook.

“It needs to be clear to families,” she said. 

Currently, the district has a shared form for bus stop change requests and safety reviews. Ms. Bae said there should be different forms for both requests. She said administrators were amenable to the change, adding that those changes could take some time. 

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