Parents of young magnet school students say losing busing is a ‘crushing crisis’ for them

CPS officials said this month that they still had not caught up with the bus driver shortage despite increasing driver wages and hosting several job fairs.

SHARE Parents of young magnet school students say losing busing is a ‘crushing crisis’ for them
Chicago Public Schools officials have worked to fix transportation problems for the kids who need it most. And that has left parents at selective enrollment and magnet programs frustrated.

Chicago Public Schools officials have worked to fix transportation problems for the kids who need it most. And that has left parents at selective enrollment and magnet programs frustrated.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

After a bus driver shortage left thousands of special education and homeless students on extremely long bus routes or entirely without transportation for months last school year, Chicago Public Schools officials decided to prioritize those kids moving forward.

Those children are legally entitled to transportation and are among the most vulnerable students, often with the most difficulty getting to their schools.

But the hiring difficulties and busing problems remain this fall. And some parents are upset about the knock-on effect of the new prioritization: CPS doesn’t have enough drivers to bus any general education students to selective enrollment and magnet schools.

Those programs are often the most sought-out alternatives for families uninterested in their neighborhood school. But that of course usually means a longer commute. So acceptance into those programs has often come with a busing option. And that can especially be helpful for working class families from Black and Latino communities whose children are high-achieving but whose neighborhood schools are underfunded.

But CPS officials said this month that they still had not caught up with the bus driver shortage despite increasing driver wages and hosting several job fairs. That left thousands of students — CPS hasn’t said the exact number — without busing. General education students — and one accompanying adult — are instead eligible for free CTA passes.

Several parents let out their frustration at Thursday’s monthly Board of Education meeting.

Josh Anderson, whose daughter is in kindergarten at Edison Elementary, said it was a “shock” to find out a couple weeks before school started that she wouldn’t have a bus.

“Transportation was promised to our children when they were offered spots at these schools,” Anderson told the board. “Families depend on you. Your offered CTA bus passes are not a solution for elementary school kids.”

Anderson said he understands prioritizing homeless and special education students.

“At the same time, with transportation eliminated, selective enrollment schools become accessible only to families that can afford,” he said. “You need to make these schools easier to attend for these families.”

Parent Jessica Driscoll said the “unilateral decision has manufactured a crushing crisis for parents and caregivers citywide.” She claimed CPS has more drivers yet is serving fewer students.

“Families have uprooted their children from selective and magnet programs, returning them to their underperforming neighborhood schools because you have failed to keep your promise of transportation,” she said.

LaShanda Flowers, a parent at Hawthorne Elementary, said she and others “work too hard to add another struggle to our plate.”

“There is no feasible solution offered to us,” Flowers said.

“There is no discount offered to be able to enroll our children in after school and before school programs and care. ... The CTA bus passes do nothing for our children. Common sense tells you that you cannot put a 5-year-old, an 8-year-old and a 9-year-old alone on the CTA bus for 30 minutes to school and a 30 minute ride from school.”

There’s no doubt the district’s plan has worked as intended to help special education students — even though problems still exist even for those kids.

Last year there were 3,000 kids on routes over 60 minutes, “which was troubling,” officials said. This year that’s down to 47 students, most of whom have routes between 61 and 66 minutes long. The average student’s bus ride is now 28 minutes.

New transportation requests continue to come in from special education and homeless students, and CPS’ goal is to get those kids routed within two weeks, official said.

“I’m super sensitive to the transportation issues,” CPS chief operating officer Charles Mayfield said. “I do understand how it impacts families in the selective enrollment and magnet programs.

“This was a tough decision that we all needed to make in regards to transporting our most vulnerable population.”

Mayfield said it’s true there are more drivers this year, but there are also more requests for transportation from students in special education and those experiencing homelessness.

“That’s our issue,” he said. “We’re not able to meet the expectation to transport all students because we have more requests from our vulnerable population.”

He also pointed out the CTA option for general education students provides a free pass to a parent or guardian to accompany their student — although many working parents are unlikely to find that option viable given the time it’ll take to ride the CTA to school with their kid before heading to work.

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