By Briana Vannozzi
Parents in Camden asked the administration to walk not just a mile, but 2.4 miles in their children’s shoes. There’s longstanding legislation in New Jersey that stipulates when busing kicks in for school transportation and when a child must walk.
“The way the law is written is a one-size-fits-all formula. So it’s 2.5 miles for high school students, two miles for K-8 students. And a place like Camden, Paterson, Trenton, Newark, it’s not the same in terms of the environment and the conditions that the students are experiencing,” said Camden School District Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard.
The law is pretty complex, but here’s how it works in a nutshell: Districts must provide busing for all K-8 students living more than two miles from their school. High school students — grades 9 through 12 — must get bused if they live more than 2.5 miles from the school. Anyone living just inside that radius needs to find their own way.
“Two miles in one community is completely different than two miles in another community. There’s a little bit of an issue in my mind that you have a statewide statute that isn’t necessarily looking at the variation that can happen between districts,” said Mark Weber, teacher and education blogger.
It gets a bit trickier for private school transportation. If a district has sending zones that trigger mandatory public school busing, it has to provide buses or cash payments — known as “aid in lieu of transportation” — for school children within that same border.
“I think that this sort of highlights an issue that has to do with funding inequity across the state. So if you’re a district that has the ability to tax itself because you have high property values and your citizens have high income, then you have the ability to tax yourself and generate those revenues to provide those extra services,” Weber said.
At an announcement inside Camden High School today, Rouhanifard unveiled that the district will invest $150,000 to expand bus services for high school students.
“An additional 220 students will have busing access. So New Jersey Transit bus passes for students that live two miles or further from their high school,” Rouhanifard said.
“That is a blessing for me because now I don’t have to walk the 20 minute walk from my school to here to get to practice, so that’s a good blessing for me,” said Creative Arts High School Senior Deyonna Jackson.
Convenience factor aside, students in both urban and rural districts say they’re often up against dangerous school routes, whether it’s county highways with no shoulder to walk or drugs and gangs loitering at every corner.
“Walking to school when grown men try to talk to you, I get scared, I try to walk fast. So I’m already walking a long distance and trying to walk fast,” said Sophomore Jacynna Trusty.
“The kids face a lot of challenges that we used as key points for the walk, to show the importance of why they needed the transportation and you guys received that,” said John Royal of The Village.
Assemblyman Arthur Barclay is proposing a budget resolution that will allocate more funding for schools to broaden bus services.
“I’m a product of it myself. I talked the talk and walked the walk,” he said.
He says he’s been planting the seed with Republican lawmakers and those in suburban districts. He’s just waiting to see if it will grow.