Lack of transportation is harsh barrier to successfully educating pupils

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Before I could react, the guy shoved his hand through my car window, pressed the handgun firmly against my chest and demanded that I get out.

The carjacking took only a few minutes, but the experience remains fresh in my mind years later.

I share this experience to make the point that I understand – perhaps better than most – the desire to punish those who break the law.

But I also understand that punishing people and solving problems are not always the same thing.

THAT IS WHY I feel compelled to address the ongoing debate in the Richmond County School System regarding whether it is appropriate to provide transportation to students sent to the alternative school.

To recap, the school system currently does not provide transportation, but there have been repeated attempts over the years to reverse this decision.

The idea of “punishing” students by making them find transportation just boggles my mind. I frankly just don’t get it.

First, school transportation is not a luxury or a privilege like dessert or extracurricular activities. It is a necessity and a reality. Does anyone enjoy riding a school bus? I never did.

MORE IMPORTANTLY, not everyone lives within walking distance of the alternative school, and not everyone has a spare car and an available adult to make the drive each morning and each afternoon. This is especially true in Richmond County with its high level of poverty.

Consequently, by depriving students of transportation, you are de facto depriving the child of an education.

Secondly, the argument goes that by providing transportation we are somehow rewarding these students.

As a kid, I got into more than my fair share of trouble at school. Just ask my mom and dad.

BUT I NEVER WAS suspended, never sent home and never had any obstacle erected to make getting an education more difficult.

To the contrary, when I got into trouble, I stayed at school longer. I cleaned the cafeteria. I picked up trash in the parking lot. And, when I was lucky, I had to sit in the principal’s office and do homework.

Study after study has shown a dramatic decrease in the likelihood that a student ever will graduate from high school with every day that the student is suspended.

And what does that mean for the student who does not graduate?

According to studies, it means the student will earn, on average, a million bucks less over a lifetime; is more likely to be involved in criminal activity; is more likely to depend on government entitlements; and, statistically, even will have a shorter lifespan.

A parallel impact is felt on the community.

High-school dropouts negatively affect the ability to attract economic development, increase the financial burdens on taxpayers and decrease our property values.

Let me put it another way.

REGARDLESS OF whether you have children in public schools or private schools, regardless of whether your children are well past school age or still in diapers and regardless of whether you even have children or not, this is a problem that affects each and every one of us. This is not “their” problem, but our problem.

So we have a choice. We can address the problem today or we can address it tomorrow. Make no mistake, however: The costs (and not just financial costs) will be much greater the longer we wait.

A board of education is charged with one job, albeit an extremely important one, and that is to educate. There is no asterisk, no fine print and no qualifying language to this job description.

The job to educate is never easy, even under the best of circumstances.

BUT IT IS THE job of a board of education to educate all children all the time. “Punishment” is a reason not to educate a child, but it is certainly not an excuse.

The school board must do anything and everything in its power to ensure everyone graduates fully prepared for life.

When faced with a difficult situation, school board member Frank Dolan is fond of saying, “It’s time to put on your big boy pants.”

Board members, respectfully: That time is now.

(The writer was education reporter for The Augusta Chronicle from 2005 to 2009.)

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oldredneckman96 03/09/14 - 02:21 am

If you do not move students out of the schools where cildren are trying to learn, you are punishing those who want to learn. Their class room is disrupted and their education is stopped to deal with those who do not want to learn. Who do you have more compassion for? The future criminals we are putting up with till they graduate to prision are not punished by learing early on to live isolated and hard at a alt school.

Dixieman 03/09/14 - 06:07 am
This actually changed my mind

By all means, kick 'em out of their school and send them to the jail school. But we should also provide transportation to make them go there; otherwise, they are likely to drop out and make their lives (and ours) even worse. Nice article; very persuasive. I should have had the common sense to realize this before.

ymnbde 03/09/14 - 07:46 am
ah, no, Mr. Gelpi

those kids have already "de facto" deprived other children
of an education with their behavior
you have to account for ALL the variables in the equation
not just Holder style, and remove the variables you don't like
or that are hard
fixing the variables that caused THAT should be priority one
and the alternative school can be solved later
is not an isolated problem... what are the reading levels
in each school? we don't know that, do we?
we should know that
you can bet there is quite a large gap in reading levels at each school
perhaps if the schools taught a kid to read
there would be no need for alternative schools?
solve the problem of a kid needing an alternative school
and the transportation problem just goes away
remember, you're the one who compared these kids to gun wielding carjackers
but do paste on...

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/09/14 - 09:32 am
Get It

So Greg Gelpi doesn't "get" the current transportation policy. So Greg Gelpi got to "work off" his truancy by cleaning the cafeteria, picking up trash, and doing his homework in the principal's office.

Well, these kids who are at the alternative school are much, much worse miscreants than Mr. Gelpi was. In order to earn your stripes at alternative school you have to have done some serious rule violation that puts other persons in harms way. You have to have multiple infractions. You have to have demonstrated that sitting in the principal's office will not improve your behavior.

In short, the people who are in alternative school have been suspended or even expelled from school for actions egregiously out of the norm and very harmful. Their being allowed to attend alternative school is an option, a privilege, a gift from the taxpayers.

School board attorney Pete Fletcher outlined the logistical nightmare of busing hundreds of students from every nook and cranny of the county to the single alternative school location. It would be extremely costly and it would require students and bus drivers to be out earlier than any other school and get home later than any other school. It's not practical; it's not even feasible.

It's not right. Choosing the option to attend alternative school must involve a commitment of student and parent (or guardian). The taxpayers are subsidizing enough. Busing should not be another gift on top of what they have already been offered.

jimmymac 03/09/14 - 09:43 am

These kids didn't do well in school when they were provided busing. What makes the writer think that all lf the sudden these trouble makers are going to get on board and become good students? The writer sounds like a northeast liberal who thinks that all problems can be solved by throwing money at it. You could give most of these kids a limo ride to school and the results will still be the same. The problems they have don't start with transportation. It starts with indifferent and bad parenting. It starts with not being taught to respect authority and just plain behave like a civilized person. Until the root causes are dealt with transportation won't solve any of their problems.

TrukinRanger 03/09/14 - 09:48 am
skipping to the bottom... To

skipping to the bottom... To the best of my knowledge, and I could be wrong- We are not obligated to offer "alternative school". Students that act up and would be kicked out for good are given a 2nd chance after being scared into not finishing school. That's when parents, not the children, have to step up and make sure their little "darlings" get to school. - so I say NO to alternative school transportation.. Now, the only way I see where it should be allowed is if they pay the overtime for however many bus drivers it would take to round them up.

Truth Matters
Truth Matters 03/09/14 - 10:30 am
Thank you Mr. Gelpi for such

Thank you Mr. Gelpi for such a thought provoking article. You have certainly presented another POV, much of which I agree.

As an educator I would be the last person to dismiss disruptive and anti-social behavior that keeps teachers from teaching and other students from learning. But I still remember one of the most important lessons in my Human Growth & Development class: All behavior is functional. At some point we must recognize that barriers to getting to school for some kids suits them just fine in the short term. Especially when they are already tuned out for whatever reason.

So, yes parents should have some skin in the game for transportation and so must Junior (or Sissy). I don't know what that would be, but there has to be a solution. Let's keep searching.

avidreader 03/09/14 - 11:32 am
Straddling the Fence!

As a long-term high school educator, I have seen many instances where a child should have been booted to the Alternative School and was not. I have also witnessed good kids sent to the AS for merely doing something childish and stupid, not malicious or threatening. There is no consistency; the will of the presiding panel dictates the results. Some are tough, some are soft.

I do not want children in my classroom who purposefully attempt to disrupt the education of twenty others. I do not want children to get into fist fights. I do not want drug peddlers roaming the halls. They should be punished, but often, some are not.

I have spoken with Judge Pamela Doumar on several occasions about this transportation issue. She makes some valid points, and I have to be honest in saying that she has contributed greatly to softening my stance. She has the experience and data to back up her proposal for AS transportation.

If I may speak for most of the teachers that I know, we do not want to deprive miscreant children of an education, we simply want them out of our classrooms until they realize that civility and manners are an important part of communal education. And MAYBE the parents of these children will also learn a lesson.

Whatever decision the BOE makes, I can live with it.

deestafford 03/09/14 - 02:37 pm
Let's have consistent standards that...

Let's have consistent standards that are implemented and enforced fairly across the board. Make sure those implementing the standards, those enforcing the standards, and those to who the standards are written understand them. This would include those who select who will attend the AS and the parents of all children.

Much of what Mr. Gelpi says is true; however, I think he misses how his information should be used. Parents and children should be notified in writing and in conferences at the beginning of the school year that,"If you do this, this, or this you will be sent to the Alternative School. Here is the impact on you and your parents if you go to the Alternative School. Do you understand? Mr. and Mrs. Parent do you understand?''

The standards are set. The impact of going to the AS are explained to the parents (wishful thinking that there will be two parents) and to the child. Then enforce and let the chips fall where they may and those who break the rules suffer the consequences. What's so hard about that?

mrenee2003 03/09/14 - 05:15 pm

It's going to be an uphill battle when dealing with people who refer to children as thugs, criminals, and punks. In many cases, problem children have problem homes so why punish the kids? Rehabilitating the parents may be a lost cause but the kids might have a fighting chance if they can get to school. Even if you're convinced they don't deserve transportation, from an economical standpoint it makes more sense to get these kids an education. How many tax payer dollars are spent supporting drop outs in prison?

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/09/14 - 06:17 pm
All The Time

Greg Gelpi wrote:

IT IS THE job of a board of education to educate all children all the time.

I'm sure when Mr. Gelpi was covering the education beat for the Chronicle, he wrote many stories of the disciplinary tribunals and their rulings. They read something like this, “A Spirit Creek Middle School pupil slammed his teacher into a door, and she slipped and fell onto the floor, injuries from which caused her to lose four days of work. The student has been suspended from school until the next term, fall of 2012. The student has the option of attending the alternative school.”

Can you see it? The students attending the alternative school have been suspended or expelled from their zoned school. The school system does not owe them an education at this point.

Alternative school is an option that the student and parent may take advantage of to obtain educational services during a suspension. There is no penalty if the student and parent decide not to take advantage of the benefit of alternative school. For the parent and student to provide their own transportation is a chance to learn responsibility and duty. It is important for the School Board trustees not to cave in to this attempt of Juvenile Court Judge Pamela Doumar to foist her work load onto the schools.

My fellow commenter deestafford posted:

Parents and children should be notified in writing and in conferences at the beginning of the school year that,“If you do this, this, or this you will be sent to the Alternative School. . . .”

Sorry, but no one is “sent” to Alternative School. It is an option that the parent and student may choose as an alternative to their suspension or expulsion. It involves a contract, a covenant. They have got to live up to the rules to take advantage of the benefit. Free bus transportation should not be an option.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 03/09/14 - 06:21 pm
Speaking of Busing

Many of the students attending alternative school were expelled or suspended from school because of serious offenses committed on the bus traveling to or from school. Such offenses include fighting, cutting someone with a knife, brandishing a gun, selling illegal drugs, sexually molesting a smaller student, etc. Why should we provide bus transportation to one who was abusing the free bus transportation provided earlier?

nocnoc 03/09/14 - 07:27 pm
The Problem needs a serious solution

Maybe the Alternative School should really be a EDUCATIONAL BOOT CAMP SCHOOL for a year and the 2nd offense the Criminal Court system?

But clear the schools of disruptive Brats and Mothers stop with the crying acts.

When it comes to BRATS kicked out of their school because of Criminal Acts, they are plain lucky to have the "Alternative" option in the 1st place instead of YDC.

So let Mom Ma chauffeur their behaving tails to school.
Maybe she'll do something to avoid this again in the future.

BTW: If a brat is send to YDC, doesn't AFDC get reduced also?

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