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Is overturned bus a 'tipping point' in JCPS busing debate?

Is overturned bus a 'tipping point' in JCPS busing debate?

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on September 30, 2012 at 11:08 PM

School bus accident

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LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- Could an overturned school bus be a tipping point in the debate over the student assignment plan in Jefferson County Public Schools?

Parents and politicians are questioning whether safety is being compromised for the sake of diversity in schools, yet at least one Jefferson County School Board member says Friday's accident has nothing to do with the district's busing and diversity policy.

Parents of some of the 48 Frost Middle School students injured when their school bus was struck by a car driven by a Butler High School student say such an accident is what they feared when their children were assigned to a school far from home.  The students' bus route begins in the West End's Portland Neighborhood and ends about 16 miles to the south in Valley Station.

The district said the route takes 12 minutes to pick up the children at bus stops, followed by a 25 minute drive to the school.

"I think it's really unfair that our black children have to keep getting bused way out to no man's land," said Cherisse Jones, whose daughter was on the bus that crashed.

In an e-mail blast to political supporters sent about two hours after Friday's wreck, state senate candidate Chris Thieneman included a photo of the wrecked bus and a call to end the controversial student assignment plan.

"Fifty kids in the local hospitals now?" Thieneman said to WHAS11, "All because of busing?"

As of Sunday evening, one student remained hospitalized in "good" condition at Kosair Children's Hospital.

Asked about the busing policy at an accident news briefing, JCPS Chief Operations Officer Michael Raisor reminded reporters that the wreck happened only three miles from the school.

Thieneman countered that bus accidents "would be less likely" if bus routes were shorter.

"Accidents happen close to home," said JCPS Board member Diane Porter when told of Thieneman's comments, "And the reality of it is, as we talk about the proximity of where a student attends school, in many cases students will still have to get on a school bus in order to get to school."

"We would have less opportunity the less times the buses are on the road," Theineman argued.

"What we're dealing with is one accident," Porter said, "that involved a lot of our students and we're very sorry about that.  We're sorry about the students that were on the bus and the students in the car.  So to me, the two do not relate."

Porter was asked if the district risks safety for the sake of diversity.

"We never risk safety for our students," she said.  "Safety is number one on our list.  So the answer to that is - no we're not risking safety."

JCPS seeks socio-economic and racial diversity in Louisville schools by mapping Jefferson County in public-school "clusters" rather than simply applying the proximity of homes to schools as the determining factor in where children attend school.

The current policy is a descendant of federal court-ordered desegregation when Jefferson County and Louisville schools merged in 1975.  Subsequent court rulings, including a landmark 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision against JCPS, have restricted the criteria the district can use in assigning students.

On September 20, the Kentucky Supreme Court sided with JCPS and ruled that a state law which gives parents the right to "enroll" their children in neighborhood schools nearest their homes does not include a right to actually "attend" the neighborhood school.

Thieneman backs an effort to clarify state law and guarantee the right to neighborhood schools, rather than allow local school boards discretion to assign students as they see fit.

"I believe my opponent's reaction to this tragedy, is unquestionably the lowest form of pandering," said Sen. Perry Clark (D) in a statement to WHAS11.  Clark is Thieneman's opponent in the fall election.  "To capitalize and politicize children being hurt, is below the dignity of a valid senatorial candidate, and is unacceptable."

Clark blamed Senate President David Williams for consistently preventing "Jefferson County Schools from having their fair share."

"If my opponent wants to point fingers, he should be pointing them at the leader of the Kentucky State Senate," Clark said.

Several candidates for the JCPS Board of Education are running on neighborhood schools platforms.  Three school board seats are up for grabs after current board members decided against seeking re-election.

"I don't understand why -- living at 38th and Broadway -- my child can't go to Western Middle School, Johnson Middle School," Jones said.  "I'd let her go to any school downtown than way out at Fort Knox." 

Frost Middle School is roughly midway between Portland and Ft. Knox.

Several parents said they would risk truancy charges and not allow their children to attend classes at Frost Middle School on Monday.

"(The accident) is one of the reasons I did not want her to go all the way out Dixie Highway, because something like this could happen," said Luretta Todd, whose daughter, Diamond, suffered a leg injury in the crash.

Todd said Diamond attended Meyzeek Middle School last year but was forced to transfer to Frost because the family moved from the East End to the West End.

"She's not going back to school," Todd said.  "Not to Frost."

Jones said her daughter would also stay home.

"They can call the police.  They can lock me up all they want," Jones said.  "My child will not go back to Frost Middle School."

"Thank God that all these children are safe," said Ted Gordon, the attorney who won the U.S. Supreme Court case, in a statement.  "With these JCPS bus accidents happening almost daily, with each accident getting worse, this lunacy of busing thousands of children all over the city has got to stop."
 

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