In less than one year, the idea of offering transportation to students attending Richmond County’s alternative program has taken many shapes.
It was trashed by Board of Education members in March, brought back to the table nine months later, pleaded for by parents then put on hold.
Most recently, district officials explored using one bus to make seven depot stops across the district to bring students to the alternative program downtown. On Tuesday, board attorney Pete Fletcher said the plan has to be revised and brought back next month because it has proved to be too complicated.
However, Wayne Frazier, the principal of the alternative program, said he believes there is a viable option not yet being explored. Frazier said students could ride their normal buses to their zoned schools then transfer to a shuttle bus that would take them to the alternative program housed on Baker Street, which is the arrangement in place for students attending the district’s magnet schools.
“I’m doing this recommendation as if my personal child was in this situation and needed transportation to school,” said Frazier, who has not yet presented his idea to district staff. “They are not going to get any better by being on the street. They need to be at school so if they did make a mistake, they can learn to better themselves at school.”
Students suspended from schools all across the district are given the option to attend the alternative center downtown in lieu of long-term suspension, but Frazier said many have difficulty getting there because they don’t have a ride or can’t make it on the city buses.
“My son has only been in school two days this week because I don’t have a car to get him there,” Shani Briggs, of Hephzibah, said Thursday.
Briggs said her son went to live with a relative downtown in August, when he was suspended from Hephzibah High School, to be closer to the alternative program. After the relative moved and her son returned home, Briggs said he gets to school only when she has the cash to pay a friend to drive him the 30-mile round trip.
The state Department of Education does not keep track of how many districts provide transportation for alternative programs, but various surrounding school systems make the arrangement work.
In Columbia County, one bus makes five stops throughout the county to pick up students and drive them to the alternative program on Gibbs Road. The students have to find a way to the depot stops, but Transportation Director Dewayne Porter said few have had problems in the roughly 10 years the system has been in place.
“We have a driver and an aide assigned to that bus who work with the students, and we’ve had very few issues in the last several years,” Porter said. “The driver and the aide work well together. They get to know the students … it’s a pretty simple route.”
The Burke County School District – a smaller system with one middle school, one high school and 4,400 students – transports alternative program students with a shuttle system like Richmond County’s magnet program.
Students ride their normal buses to their zoned schools then take a shuttle bus to the alternative center.
The Bibb County School District also uses the shuttle method, said Transportation Director Anthony Jackson.
The Savannah-Chatham County Public School System runs a bus through “strategically established” stops throughout the county, which picks up students and brings them to the alternative school, said spokesperson Kurt Hetager.
The Atlanta Public School System does not provide a bus for the alternative program, but students are given passes to ride the city buses, said spokesperson Kimberly Willis Green.
In December, Juvenile Court Judge Pamela Doumar asked the Richmond County school board to consider providing a bus because it could significantly help reduce juvenile crime.
The court got a $250,000 state grant this summer to pay for three therapists to do home therapy with about 20 at-risk youth and their families.
The grant is part of the Children in Need of Services program, a classification created under Georgia’s new juvenile justice law to rehabilitate rather than detain youths who commit status offenses.
Doumar said many of the students in the CHINS program also will be in the alternative program and cannot be rehabilitated if they are not in school.
Fletcher said Tuesday that it would cost $6,000 to have one bus make six to seven depot stops at community centers across the district and that juvenile court has offered $3,000. To complete that route, however, a bus would have to run as early as 5:30 a.m. and would not finish dropping students home until after 6 p.m.
The Department of Juvenile Justice has agreed to put probation officers on the bus and in the community centers to monitor the students, but Fletcher said they would not be able to work these hours.
Transportation Director Jimmie Wiley said shuttling alternative students like the magnet student-method can be explored but also might be costly and cause more issues.
“What we’re doing now is exploring other avenues,” Wiley said. “Even exploring other avenues, there’s some logistics that have to be worked out.”