When a student started taunting and hitting Dillon Padgett on the school bus last fall, the 14-year-old pulled a protractor from his backpack and threatened to stab the bully.
The threat was enough to take Dillon out of Pine Hill Middle School and into the Tubman Education Center Alternative Program – a good 20 miles from his McBean home – for the rest of the school year.
Because the Richmond County school system does not provide transportation for students assigned to the alternative program, families have to become creative to get their children to the Walton Way campus.
Tubman Principal Wayne Frazier said transportation issues keep many students from attending at all and put an added strain on families who need the most help.
“I have students who are not coming to school because of transportation problems,” Frazier said. “In order for us to be effective to get these children academically and behaviorally to the next level, out in the streets is not the place to help them. If they’re not in the building and they’re not here, we can not give them what they need to be successful.”
Clarence Daniels, 17, of Hephzibah, can only make it to Tubman on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, when he hitches a ride with a neighbor who works at the nearby University Hospital.
Having been unemployed and looking for work for more than a year, Daniels’ mother, Gailer Baity, said it’s difficult to come up with gas to drive the 60 total miles it would take to drop Clarence off every morning, drive back to Hephzibah and pick him up in the afternoons.
“My son did something and he got in trouble for it, so there should be consequences,” Baity said. “But I would like to see them have transportation for students who try to take advantage of a second chance.”
Carol Rountree, the school system’s director of student services, said the lack of transportation at Tubman is not so much a financial or logistical issue but has more to do more with the code of conduct rules. Transportation is a privilege for students in the school system, but if they violate the code of conduct, that privilege is lost.
“The alternative school is a second chance for (students) to continue their education at a different setting,” Rountree said. “It is true that the students have lost rights when they were suspended and one of those rights is … transportation to school.”
Frazier said transportation creates problems for about 80 percent of the roughly 150 students who attend Tubman. Students come from all areas of the district and
enter the program at various points in the school year.
Though transportation has never been offered in the alternative program, Richmond County Board of Education member Barbara Pulliam said the district should create a bus route for the alternative program with a handful of stops across the district. Because the small population of Tubman students is spread across the county, there could be one stop for the south side, one for Hephzibah and one for west Augusta, she said.
“We’re an educational institution, not a penal institution,” Pulliam said. “These kids don’t have a job, they don’t have a car, so you’re saying if they can’t get there they don’t get their education. That’s wrong.”
She said she requested the issue be added to the board’s
committee meetings Tuesday.
The lack of school-provided transportation has forced Tyrone Jenkins to change jobs in order to get his daughter to Tubman from their home on the south side.
He said he quit his morning job with FPL foods for a night job with Sizemore Janitorial Services to be available to drive his daughter to school and pick her up in the afternoons.
“It’s been tough for me, but it’s what I have to do,” Jenkins said.
Padgett is also making adjustments. When he gets home at 7:30 a.m. from his night shift at Kimberly Clark, he stays awake to take his son 20 miles to Tubman.
By the time he gets home, he fits in about four hours of sleep before driving another 40-mile round trip to pick his son up about 2 p.m.
“It’s wearing me out,” Padgett said. “It’s getting to the point where I can’t afford it anymore … My son made a mistake. How long are they going to make me suffer?”