The Martin County School District Superintendent is responding to strong criticism from Sheriff William Snyder regarding to removal of 90 bus stops next school year.
Snyder told WPTV, “There’s not been adequate planning. There’s not been adequate safety considerations. The school board and the administration should reverse themselves, undo this policy, and pick up every child this year that they did last year.”
His comments come after parents expressed concern that their children might not be safe walking to school now that their bus stop is gone.
The school district this year is complying with a state law that changed in 2015. Simply, the law changed what is considered hazardous walking conditions for children living within 2 miles of their school.
Students whose bus stops were within 2 miles of their school and no longer considered hazardous were not eligible for state funding for a bus.
Superintendent Laurie Gaylord says the district gave some parents an extra two years, essentially, to have a bus.
She would like to see the bus stops remain, but she’s complying with new rules.
“Change is difficult for people, especially when you’ve had something, to take it away and not have it anymore,” Gaylord said.
Gaylord said she was shocked to hear Snyder’s comments Thursday.
“I have to honestly tell you that I was completely surprised. I was a little bit stunned and that's why I actually picked up the phone and called the sheriff. I think that’s an important message for all of us. You pick up the phone,” Gaylord said.
Sheriff Snyder said he was not given adequate notice about the safety needs, such as crossing guards, as a result of the bus stop removals.
“We both recognized that somewhere along the way, there was some miscommunication, and that conversation should have happened,” Gaylord said.
Something positive to come of that conversation, she says, is the agreement to both be better in the future at communicating directly.
But Gaylord doesn’t feel the communication was lacking to the public and parents.
Letters were sent home before the end of the last school year telling impacted parents about the upcoming bus stop changes for the next school year.
Gaylord says there were multiple public meetings, phone calls home and parents could fill out surveys notifying the district of any hazardous conditions they might not be aware of.
She’s concerned some parents say they just learned of the changes this month.
“Safety of students is a primary concern for us, always.”
The district has reinstated one bus stop this week, but does not plan to add any more before the start of the school year.
After the first day of school, Gaylord will see if adjustments need to be made to routes.
Gaylord hopes parents and community members with concerns will take their message to the source of the changes, which is above the district, at the state level.
“For me, working with our board, my recommendation moving forward is for our board to go to our local legislative delegation, to be able to say how can we address this at the state level to make some changes? This impacts everybody. It impacts the parents, it impacts the students themselves. It impacts our schools. It impacts our staff. It impacts everybody in our district. That’s why I think look at the legislation and say can we make changes there to make it better? I think that’s where our board needs to be proactive and also our local legislative delegation need to be involved.”