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Bus schedule change affects class time for students

Plans to alleviate traffic congestion could compromise classroom instructional hours starting in November for Scappoose Schools


SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Buses line up behind Grant Watts Elementary School and Otto Petersen Elementary School at dismissal time. A change in dismissal time is scheduled to take place in November to alleviate current traffic congestion associated with the buses. Starting Monday, Nov. 2, elementary schools in Scappoose will be dismissed 10 minutes earlier in an effort to resolve traffic congestion, but some are not happy about the reduction in classroom time that would result.

At the Scappoose School District board meeting on Monday, Oct. 12, board members unanimously voted to support the implementation of a plan that would release elementary school students 10 minutes earlier than middle and high school students in an effort to alleviate traffic congestion. Superintendent Stephen Jupe and Mitch Neilson, the district’s business manager, designed the plan that was presented to the school board.

After comments and concerns were raised by parents, teachers and administrators at the meeting, however, several board members later seemed anxious about the new policy, despite the vote.

Parents were notified by email about the change last week, prior to Monday’s meeting.

“I know I’m probably going to get in trouble for saying this, but busing is a mess right now,” said school board member Phil Lager.

At the start of the school year, the Scappoose School District lengthened the day by starting 15 minutes earlier and dismissing students 15 minutes later. That action was in response to a state mandate that required an increase in instructional hours in the classroom.

Jupe said the district had some leeway to cut the 10 minutes proposed in the busing plan because of the additional time added, but said next year’s schedule might be trickier as limitations on what qualifies as instructional time become more restrictive.

Parents of students at Sauvie Island Academy, a charter school within the district, are not happy about the change. While it does not specifically call for an early dismissal for the school, buses would only have 15 minutes to travel almost 13 miles to reach Otto Petersen and Grant Watts elementary schools given the current circumstances.

Darla Meeuwsen, the principal for Sauvie Island Academy, said she will be forced to look at ending classes earlier to accommodate the new busing schedule.

“I feel like the district is treating Sauvie Island like a second-class citizen,” said Joy Baker, a parent of a Sauvie Island Academy student, when speaking to the school board. “And the bus barn even told me that. ‘We don’t have to bus your kids.’ They flat out told me.”

Darla Meeuwsen calculated that by reducing classroom time by an additional 20 minutes, students will have a total of 102 fewer educational hours in the classroom than other schools in the district, the equivalent of 17 school days.

At the start of the school year, the charter school had already needed to dismiss students 15 minutes earlier than last year to accommodate new bus schedules.

Keith Meeuwsen, a St. Helens High School teacher, Sauvie Island Academy parent and husband to Darla Meeuwsen, said the impact of having fewer hours in the classroom will also affect students when they reach higher grade levels.

“The state wants more and my school gets less. That bothers me,” Keith Meeuwsen said, referring to the state-mandated increase in classroom instructional hours.

Darla Meeuwsen said adding separate buses for the students also isn’t an option. First Student, the company contracted to operate the district’s buses, doesn’t have extra buses, and even if it did, Sauvie Island Academy would not have the budget to pay for them, she said.

“The district has made huge strides for school choice ... but currently, we can’t afford to cut off any more time in our day,” Darla Meeuwsen said.

Shanna Schlitz, a Sauvie Island Academy school board member, told the Scappoose School District board that she would like to meet to discuss a more collaborative plan that would not result in shorter in-class hours. Schlitz said the school board at Sauvie Island is still looking at the plan as a work in progress.

Currently, classes at Sauvie Island Academy start five minutes later than Grant Watts and Otto Petersen elementary schools and dismiss 25 minutes earlier to get students on and off the buses in time.

In the afternoon, shuttle buses pick up students and take them to the middle school to either meet a parent or be connected to a regular route bus to take them home.

Jupe initiated a new bus route schedule in the school district earlier this year with the intention of getting students home faster. First Student crafted the schedule, but the implementation did not go as smoothly as Jupe had hoped. In September, the Spotlight reported parent complaints and complications caused by the change in routes and difference in school start and dismissal time.

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