This school year brought some significant changes for sixth graders and their parents, including some unexpected consequences: A child who might have been too young to make a two-mile walk to school was suddenly old enough to do so, not because of age, but because of a policy switch.
The thousand-odd students who had been fifth graders at any of the district’s five elementary schools last year might have expected to move on to sixth grade at the same schools. But the Flagler County School Board, after many years of discussion about it, shifted sixth grade to middle schools starting a few weeks ago.
For Miley(*), an incoming sixth grader who’s just 10, it meant no longer riding the bus to Belle Terre Elementary school–or to Indian Trails Middle School, where she was shifted, but walking the two-mile distance from her home on Breeze Hill Lane. The first week of school she was handed a document on campus that showed she lived 1.98 miles from school, making her ineligible for the bus. It wasn’t done very sensitively, according to her mother. “‘Give this to your mom when you get home, and you can’t go back on the bus,'” Jeanette Lopez said her daughter Miley was told.”So she got off the bus very upset.”
That mean meant leaving home at dawn, walking the streets in complete darkness as the days shorten, walking 1.2 miles alone along Belle Terre Parkway, and braving weather and afternoon heat on the way back.
For Miley’s mother, it was too arbitrary a change for too much risk to her daughter. “If they were still in 6th grade at Belle Terre, they’d be too young to walk,” Lopez said. “But now going to Indian Trails, they’re not? 10 going on 11 is still too young.”
Dontarrious Rowls, the school district’s transportation director, sympathizes with Lopez, but says he has to fall back on state law, district policy and actual mileage. “We don’t just come up with these rules, we follow what’s been set in place,” Rowls said. “The GIS system we use put that child under two miles.”
Lopez measured a 2.02-mile distance on her watch, placing her house beyond the two-mile distance. The district’s measurements, however, were mirrored in three tests conducted by FlaglerLive in accordance with the law’s parameters: the distance is measured from where a home’s driveway meets the road, or the right of way, to the school property and a school entrance (the law’s wording can be a bit vague in the latter regard).
The three measurements, conducted with the “Speedometer” app, yielded readings of 1.96 and 1.92 miles when the distance is measured from the home to the school’s first entrance at the south end (the first reading was based on a northbound route, the second on the more likely southbound route). A third reading, going southbound from near the front of the main entrance, yielded a distance of 1.97 miles, almost identical to the district’s.
The new year’s switch affected 1,000 students, but only a handful of students are on that borderline distance, like Lopez’s child. “We haven’t had a lot of complaints from 6th grade parents specifically, but we have had people who say oh well, I am within the two miles and I deserve a bus,” Rowls said.
Any exceptions made? “It would be my professional opinion that no, they don’t have a choice,” Rowls said. “If that window is open for one child, it would have to be open for all children. It’s about fairness and equity.”
State law is not actually categorical on the matter, but has been interpreted as such for pragmatic reasons: districts need clarity when setting policy. State law makes provisions for “A reasonable walking distance” for students who are not otherwise eligible for bus transportation (such as students with disabilities). The law defines “reasonable” as “any distance not more than two (2) miles between the home and school or one and one-half (1 1/2) miles between the home and the assigned bus stop.”
Legal wording is important both for what it says and what it does not say. The law is explicit about a distance that is not more than two miles. But it is silent on distances that are less than two miles. In other words, the law does not prohibit bus transportation for students who are below the two-mile mark, leaving that up to local school boards, in accordance with another section of the same law, which states that all bus routes will be planned in accordance with capacity and practicability for students beyond that reasonable walking distance.
That’s why the Flagler school board made the decision that, while the two-mile rule applies to students in middle and high school, only a one-mile rule applies to elementary school students. But it did not address the grayish zone of sixth graders who were elementary school students one year and middle school students the next, nor such cases as Lopez’s child. Absent that kind of direction, Rowls’s hands are tied, even if buses are not full. “I know that may sound harsh, but that is the reality of it,” he said.
If she were taking the bus, Miley would have boarded at 7 a.m. from an intersection near her home, to be in her seat at school at 7:30 a.m. As it is, she would have to leave home between 6:30 and 6:40 to make the 45-minute walk to school and get there on time. Both her parents work in local hospitals on surgical shifts and have extremely early work schedules of their own, so they can’t drive her to school–or bring her back. Lopez has been scrambling to find Miley rides to and from school, cobbling together different options with neighborhood parents, but not yet finding a solid solution.
Speaking with the district’s transportation department was not a good experience: an employee kept curtly repeating the standard line about Miley not being eligible and eventually hung up on Lopez–leaving her in tears.
“If that happened in my department then sincerely I am apologetic to that parent for the level of service that she received,” Rowls said. “I can’t necessarily speak to that because at this point it’s a she said she said statement, but if that happened, even the possibility of that happening, stimulates me to have a conversation with my staff just to ensure we are offering the utmost service to our parents.”
He underscored, however, that “parents will continue to push,” even when they’ve been provided the information, and that in this case maybe “the parent just did not accept the information. We don’t make these rules up, we just enforce them, and unfortunately sometimes we become the bad guy.”
As of the beginning of this week, Lopez was still looking for options for Miley, who was nevertheless managing not to miss any school.
(*) Note: the child’s name has been changed to a pseudonym.
Something wrong with this picture and needs to be corrected. With the poor street lighting in PC see if you want street lighting you have to personally pay for it, the City of PC fails to provide street lighting.
And also with most streets do not have side walks this is putting young children at risk and something needs to change for their safety.
It should be up to the parents. Maybe one of them can change their hours at the hospital.
Damien Esmond says
I would be furious if my 10 year old, 6th grade ITMS attending daughter had to walk with a flashlight beyond the immediate neighborhood. We get up at 5:45 to be at the stop and picked up at 6:22 AM and I walk mine 5 houses away to the dark corner at least until the time change, Its so weird to me sending a 10 year old girl out in what feels like the middle of the night with a book bag and a flashlight. Surely Someone can come to their senses and arrange an incoming bus to pick this poor kid up?
This is asinine, there’s no sidewalks in this sub-division until Belle Terre or the Palm Coast Parkway for a child to walk on in the dark let alone adults. Literally vehicles speed through this subdivision at times well in excess 50 mph all times of day. Cars, cycles, delivery vans doesn’t matter. Why did they wait until the school year started and not as soon as they made their decision?
Concerned Mother and Teacher says
As a local high school teacher, my daughter (age 11) is in the same situation. My school, FPC, does not release until 2:40, so it is not possible to pick her up from school. She will have to walk in the rain, heat, etc. down roads with NO SIDEWALKS and past locations of well-known drug dealers, pedophiles, etc. I tried and tried to get this resolved. We live 1.8 miles, so it is a no-go. I am actively trying to change her address to a home near the bus stop that is just .2miles from our house. With that being said, it is a STATE STATUE AND NOT IN THE CONTROL OF OUR DISTRICT. We need to start there and make some noise!
FPC HS Youth center may be an option until you can pick up. If child in HS…
Disregard …child is 11
And? It was 1994. I was in 6th grade. It was middle school. I had to walk over 2 miles to school. I survived. So will this kid, as long as the parents are good. And yeah, good, smart parents do make this situation better.
Didn’t all us old fogies walk two miles to school, uphill, both ways, always in the snow?
But seriously, why can’t any kid walk to any of their school’s bus stops and get a ride? And vice versa? Why wouldn’t distance to the stops be the factor instead of to actual driveways?
I did that too quite often as a kid. To avoid the snowy hills and all.
10 year old? what 10 year old is in the 6th grade?
@ Someone … a very bright child who may have been skipped a grade. It happens. When my brother started school they wanted to advance him a grade (in high school he tested at genius level on an IQ test on a day he wasn’t feeling well). My mother did not agree to it, wanting to keep him with his same-aged peers. But I just read the other day about a young girl, not yet a teen, who was accepted to medical school!
Jeannie 99 says
Maybe some of these NEW School Board members can do something that uses COMMON SENSE and go pick that child up…EVERYDAY and Drop her off EVERYDAY in front of her house. What the HELL is wrong with this place ? IDIOTS working for IDIOTS !!!!
So why does the kid walk? I hate to be one of those “back in my day types”, but, God made bicycles for a reason. That 40 minute walk now becomes (even for a slow rider) a 15 – 20 minute bike ride. When in sixth grade, all the kids in our town attended the old central grammar school with the furthest of us being about 1.75 miles from the school. Every kid rode their bike to school – rain, shine, snow, heat – just like the mailman, we went to school. Getting a ride was not cool. And there were no buses. It was not until high school that we ever saw a school bus, and then only if you were more than two miles from school. The biggest difference that I see today is that we started at 8:30 and got out at 3:30, none of this 7:30 starting time crap.
We were also required to go home for lunch if we lived less than a mile from school, so it was another bike ride home for lunch. Over a mile and you brown-bagged it. No school lunches in sixth grade or junior high, just the milk cart where you paid 2 cents for white or 3 cents for chocolate. (At the K – 5 schools, everyone went home for lunch.)
“2 cents” for white milk? Good lord, did you go to school in Medieval times? I’m old and had to pay 5!
Current day Palm Coast is NOT anything like times were 50 or 60 years ago. It’s not a place where you can just leave your car unlocked. It’s not a place where your next door neighbors might be Ward and June Cleaver. Rather, the neighbors (you know, the houses with sheets over the windows and the grass overgrown) might be a dealer’s residence.
Absolutely no way would I want a 10-year-old child – boy or girl – walking 2 miles in the dark with no sidewalks. Or, for that matter, riding a bike in the dark. We are in the B section not far from the school in question and there are a lot of vehicles on the side streets at that hour, people headed to work, often going far too fast for the width of the street, and if another vehicle comes in the opposite direction you have to hug the grass to safely pass each other. So where is that kid supposed to be walking in that circumstance?
Those of you who think this is okay and no big deal would be the first to raise hell if your child/grandchild were hit by a car in the early morning hours. I don’t care if this IS some foolish state regulation. There should be exceptions or hardship cases that are decided on a case by case basis. What the heck is wrong with people lately? I walked to school for a long time. But I also lived in a quiet rural town with sidewalks and everyone knew everyone else in town. Not the zoo PC has become!
R. S. says
Sorry, I think we mollycoddle our kids too much. In fifth grade, I rode my unmotorized bike to a neighboring town for about 13 miles: rain, snow, or shine. A two-mile hike may keep the doctor and child obesity away.
Dee Cocchiola says
Whoever came up with this rule should get out and walk every day with this person on streets with no sidewalks, in the dark. You can make exceptions to rules for the safety of a young child walking two miles to school.
I drive my 7th grader to school , Palm Coast has grown so much, its dangerous to be walking alone for 2+ miles this early, also dangerous to be walking from school because of the heat. I wish the kids were #1 priority for the Palm Coast government. Also, rude staff at bus transportation.
Have Rowls meet the child every morning and afternoon to walk too school and home. If that were to happen you would see how fast a change would be made. Its not the childs fault she didn’t make the changes. As for the person at the transportation I have in the past had to put up with their attitude. Rules were meant to be broken. Show a little compassion.
I’ve spoken to two different staff members at the transportation department since school started over the phone. One of them couldn’t even form a sentence and the other was just plain rude. And no, my concerns where never answered.
Does seem rather pathetic not to round 1.97 miles to 2 miles for a child or two that would be on the fringe boundary ? Where does the bus actually stop ? Does anyone on that same residential street qualify for busing to any of the schools on the North end of Belle Terre that would be shared ? Hope they find an solution that makes sense.
If not, I grew up in Daytona Beach Shores unincorporated back in the day, moved there for my 6th grade school education, younger brother was 2 years behind me educationally. We both rode our bicycles 1.5 miles each direction to Lenox Elementary for that education, never missed a day, rain or shine, warm or cold. I did it for a year until I was bused to Seabreeze Jr High (2.5 miles away), younger brother for 4th-6th, the last 2 school years on his own. Neither of those schools had air conditioning. Grades were top of the class too, it’s character defining & building. That was South Peninsula pretty much all the way. We were taught to look both ways to cross the streets at intersections with the only traffic light at Silver Beach/Orange Avenue and to ride with traffic not into it. How bad does one want that education. On occasion Mom ended up taking us by car, but it would’ve had to been raining. Weather patterns for Flagler county, rarely rains in the AM, and the PM is usually well after an Elementary school is adjourned for the day. I actually preferred the bike ride to any busing. The Spruce Creek High School bus ride/HS car was a bit of a haul. Didn’t get the HS car until I took a job & saved for it, rode a bike to those employers too. Started off as a Halifax Reporter newsboy delivery & my paper route was the Lenox Elementary school area to Volusia Ave (ISB) from the intracoastal Halifax River to A1A. Life was what it was back in the 1970’s, we also drank out of the garden hose, no bicycle helmets for bike & skateboards. We weren’t cripples, we were taught to be resourceful & find ways to make it happen. 2 miles on a bike & one would be healthier for it, consider it a daily exercise program.
Questions for school board: Is bus @ capacity that 10 yr old could take if approved?
Is this 10 year old mature enough to make decisions about safety walking ~2 mi in darkness? Attempts to abduct kids have occurred. Is this 10 a skilled bike rider? A school bus actually hit a child in PC in the sidewalk near the school. This issue is far more important than logos on t shirts! I walked to/from school many years ago but there were sidewalks and it was light out and I usually walked with other kids.
Unfortunately, the neighborhoods in Palm Coast were not designed for walking or biking. Very few residents pay for the light pole with a light any longer as it is a bigger expense than it was 30 years ago and quite honestly, why doesn’t the city put up more street lights??? Pine Lakes has a great sidewalk however I have to walk over half a mile on a main road in the mornings with cars flying 10-20 mph at minimum over the speed limit to get to this sidewalk. Yes, I carry a flashlight and move it back and forth so the approaching cars hopefully notice. During this time I pass several children on their bicycles on their way to Buddy Taylor having to deal with the speeding cars as well. These kids are riding with backpacks and have reflectors on their bikes, doing the best they can not to get hit.
The schools should have thought this through before they decided to move those 6th graders to the middle school. Had the change not been made, these kids would be on a bus and obviously the change in the bus distance was not clearing explained prior to the start of the school year. Pretty damn stupid if you ask me considering that both Buddy Taylor and Indian Trails share a parking lot with the elementary levels!
Guess we will just have to wait until there is an unfortunate accident.
Walking to school. 2 miles. Seems dangerous to me. Repubs run city, county and state. A sign of bad things to come.
We learn from our mistakes says
For those commenting about how far they walked and the need for exercise and other ridiculous references to past practice: in addition to those walks, we also rode around in the beds of pickup trucks, didn’t put our kids in car seats, and thought smoking was healthy. We change when we learn more. And having small children walk long distances, down busy roads, at times that will soon be complete darkness with the time change, is ignorant policy. Children that small do not have the skill set to defend themselves against predators and are one distracted driver away from death. That has happened here before. Where ignorant policy left a bus stop at a busy intersection and a child lost her life. Then everyone had to scramble and wanted to spend money to reevaluate the stops, poor slabs, build sidewalks, etc. When it was all avoidable by someone simply looking at the poorly conceived practice in the beginning. Such as this one. Here nothing changed, but what the school considered middle school. She lived in the same house, rode the same bus, from the same stop, every year, for years. And it would have continued if 6th grade stayed in elementary school. They moved 6th to middle school and she couldnt ride. Not because there wasnt a seat for her, or there wasnt funding for this, or for a change her family made, but because our schools didnt have a plan for their growth and someone decided a rule said we measure a distance from here and not there and there is no wiggle room because if we let one do it, we might have 10 other empty seats we have to fill too. Its just ignorant policy, and the second their is a very predictable tragedy from this bad policy we will spend millions trying to figure out how to correct a problem, that could have been corrected by people just treating others with a little respect and recognizing that not everything needs to be so black and white.
@ We learn. Bravo!
The Geode says
I see a lot of “blah-blah-blah” but I don’t see anybody offering to give this kid a ride …and before you come at me with “why don’t you”? Just remember, just like YOU – I don’t care, I just wanted to pretend to be outraged
My daughter was not allowed on the bus after the first couple of days one year, because they pulled up our address in it was 1.9 miles from the school. I could see the bus stop from my driveway and she couldnt get on with kids that lived on our street.
I’d love to say to all you old folks who express how you rode your bikes or walk in the rain or snow well news flash this isent the 50’s or 60’s when if someone died or got hurt u did not here about it this world has changed and its a new generation so wake up! This is palm coast there are no side walks on residential roads. My son goes to buddy Taylor we live 2 miles and he is not aloud to ride the bus. But the kids who live on the same street as me can? This distance between the schools and our homes should not effect for a child to ride a bus! School thinks they are looking out for the children’s safety but there not there should be a bus for every child no matter what!!! This town is insane! And let me say one thing I have 3 young daughter and there bus comes at 645 am and the way theese people speed and go around the bus when it is stop is even more unreal! Someone needs to do something and the school board r idots. And as far as the commenter that said maybe children should walk if there a large size! How rude!!!!!!!!!!! That’s just sad you would even say that it don’t matter what the kid weighs or looks like! All kids should be treated the same seeing the school thinks there doing a good job protecting there children!
Over It says
I love 1.999 miles from the middle school and was lucky enough to be able to take a late lunch to pick up my kid and bring them home then go back, that was 4years ago, and now I’m doing the same for my youngest child, but I lucked out, and sacrifice my lunch break but others don’t have that option. Yeah I walked two miles and even rode the city bus in Daytona to spend the day at the beach all the time, but things were different then and kids had the social awareness they just don’t have now. Palm Coast doesn’t care about the kids, plan and simple they want the rich retirees from up north buying homes and jacking up tax rates to collect. They don’t care about parents with kids driving 30-60minutes to actually work a decent job. Or that they owns homes and pay taxes also. And they sure don’t give a damn about the peppered child predators living within the 2 miles of these schools they require our kids to walk. Look up watchdog parents of walkers and see what’s around and Teach your kids to be aware of their surroundings instead of looking at their phones, run, scream, drop and kick if they are grabbed by a stranger because palm coast doesn’t care about your kids. There’s a child sex offender two houses from the bus stop by my house. Nice huh? And another two on the path my kid would have to walk to get to and from school. Maybe one day they will pave the parking lot at FPC.