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Group of West Fargo parents want district to change busing policy

Forum file photo

WEST FARGO — A group of parents hope the West Fargo School District will change its busing policies after they submit a petition to the school board on Monday, Aug. 27.

"Parents who were promised busing are not having any busing now even though the students have been bussed in the past," said Jennie Mawson, who created an online petition at Change.org.

Since its creation on Monday, Aug. 20, the petition had gathered more than 450 signatures with a goal of 500.

"They told us last year we would have busing and never reached out to say we would not have busing," Mawson said. "We don't have a way to get our children to school and the before and after school programs are all already full."

West Fargo Schools uses a .9 mile radius system to decide who qualifies for busing. The district will provide busing to students who live more than .9 miles from their school, but those that live within the radius, or in the no-bus zone, must find an alternative way of getting to school.

"The no-bus zone does not necessarily mean a no-walk zone," District Spokeswoman Heather Leas said. "Parents can drop their children off, they can organize a carpool or use our before and after school programs. Just because the district doesn't provide busing, doesn't mean the student has to walk."

Leas said the petition can be presented during the public comment part of Monday's agenda. Any parent who wants to speak on the issue can use the full three minutes a speaker is allowed. However, a policy change is not currently on the agenda, and while the board can decide to discuss the matter, the board typically only listens to speakers.

Leas said the board could decide to address busing changes in the future, but any changes would be districtwide and not likely to happen before school starts on Aug. 28.

In Mawson's case, she lives 1.2 miles from Osgood Elementary, where her fourth-grade student is expected to attend this year. Mawson said she told district officials that she was outside of the no-bus zone of Osgood and should qualify for busing, but was told the district's software says differently.

"I just don't understand how it would have changed since last year," she said.

Her daughter attended Independence Elementary School last year, a school the family lives only .7 miles from but was expected to transfer this fall after the district changed elementary boundary lines in the spring to account for the opening of Willow Park Elementary School.

Leas said Mawson's neighborhood had a mixed attendance last year. Students in grades kindergarten through second went to Osgood and those in grades three to five went to Independence. The bus that went down that street was an Independence bus, but since there was room on it, the bus also picked up the Osgood children and dropped them at Osgood before continuing on to Independence.

With the boundary changes, all K-5 students on that street will be attending Osgood, which means there will no longer be an Independence bus going through the neighborhood. This street is within the walk zone for Osgood, so busing services will not be provided to students on that street, Leas said.

Leas said the district kept its transfer process open for several months, which allows parents to transfer to another school within the district when possible. This year, more than 300 students requested to transfer.

Leas said the district was unable to approve all the transfer requests because attendance and enrollment numbers at each school have to be considered.

Some parents who signed the petition said they are concerned about the safety of their children walking alone as well as children having to walk in the winter weather.

Most districts in the state use a similar bus radius or only allow provide busing for rural students, Leas said.

"If the district were to implement a system that looked at socioeconomic status as a factor, it would add significantly to the operations of the transportation department," Leas said. " For example, the district has schools that are 50-60 percent free and reduced lunch, which would translate into at least that percentage of the school qualifying for busing, plus any students that live within the existing bus zone."

Mawson said the majority of parents who have agreed with the petition live along 47th Street in Fargo. She said heavy traffic on 40th Avenue and 44th Avenue is a concern for children crossing those streets.

"It's a much larger conversation than just the one area," Leas said. "We couldn't adjust policy for just one area; it has to be equitable across the district."

The petition asks the district to take socioeconomic status into account when deciding who is bussed.

Mawson's second child will be attending pre-kindergarten classes at the Lodoen Center and busing is expected to be available.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and at CBS in Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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