Arlington parents are looking for someone to offer them solutions, as they try to get preschoolers to school on time.
Parents at Drew Model School have been especially vocal about it. Representatives of the school’s parent association have been at school board meetings throughout the year, urging the board to let 3-year-old children take county buses.
At issue is a tradeoff, between safety and logistics. Right now, Newman said, there are just no county buses that are safe for three-year-olds. The county has moved to phase in buses that will accommodate 3-year-olds, but those are still at least a year off.
Drew parents say there’s no reason to wait. While Drew’s building was under renovation last year, the school moved halfway across the county, to the Wilson building in Rosslyn. At that point, 3-year-olds enrolled in Drew’s Montessori preschool program could take a bus to the school’s temporary home. Parents asked the board to continue the practice when Drew students moved back to the school building this year, but the board said no.
“I don’t want a 3-year-old to be hurt, but I come down on it differently on it,” said Vaughn Olbrys. Olbrys is a former co-chair of the Drew parent association, and works with families applying to get into Drew’s preschool program – frontline, she said, for seeing how transportation decisions affect the school system..
“The risk of having a bus accident at age three without a seatbelt is small, and the benefits of preschool are large,” she said, and avoiding the risk of accidents means the board strikes out the opportunity for some preschoolers to start at Drew.
Especially when there’s nothing keeping risks for 4-year-olds down. The real question is one of weight, said Monique O’Grady, co-chair of Drew’s parent association. Federal regulations governing Headstart programs say children should weigh 40 pounds or more to ride in vans without carseats.
However, those regulations do not affect buses, and O’Grady said there’s no reason to think every child over 4 weighs 40 pounds. “There’s no rational reason why a 3-year-old can’t ride the bus,” O’Grady said. “Last year, my first grader barely made the weight requirement.”
Even worse, Olbrys and O’Grady said, Drew is a county-wide school, drawing students from all over Arlington, and increasing the need for transportation for preschoolers getting started there. “If anyone should have access to transportation, it should be Drew kids first,” O’Grady said.
Their complaints are echoed by the parents of some special education preschoolers around the county. They said that the pick-up times for school buses vary widely from day-to-day, causing problems for children who learn better when on a schedule.
Newman and Hynes said that fixes to the question of carrying preschoolers were already in the works, as much as was possible. “This is something I’ve been pushing for,” Hynes said, and the board is considering a plan to phase in buses outfitted to carry 3-year-olds. “We almost adopted plans for transition, and we’re hoping to see money in the budget for it this year.”
As to special education, Newman said that new hires didn’t lessen manpower concerns. Students in special ed have to go to schools where space is available, and that can be impossible to tell ahead of time, he said. “There’s no guarantee that what works this year will work next year,” he said.