By ANGELENA CHAPMAN
Special to the Standard
WEST GREENWICH—A handful of frustrated parents addressed the Exeter-West Greenwich school committee Tuesday night concerning the switch to “group stops” for students receiving out-of-district transportation to Monsignor Matthew F. Clarke Catholic Regional School and The Prout School, both in Wakefield.
Parents expressed concern at the timing of the change, saying students attending the two schools were not told until the night before the first day of classes that it would be put in place.
The move comes following a decision by the committee to approve group stops for these students and, according to School Committee Clerk Valerie Zuercher, the change is expected to save the district $30,000.
School Committee Chairperson Teri Maia-Cicero said the school committee had “no control” over the route and that it was designed and is overseen by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE).
Director of Administration Robert Ross told the committee that he has already received phone calls from five parents calling the situation “unacceptable.”
In the designed route, Ross explained that students who are attending Prout take district buses to the high school. From there, they get on a bus going first to a group stop to pick up all of the Monsignor Clarke students and then on to the two private schools. The group stop is at Oak Harbor Village, 567 South County Trail (Route 2). Ross said the entire number of students affected is 19.
There were six parents at Tuesday night’s meeting who say their children were directly affected.
A father of two daughters attending Prout said his children “aren’t making it there on time,” He also said the bus does not have a monitor.
Jessica Smith, of Exeter, whose daughter attends Monsignor Clarke, attended the meeting with her husband and said that, since the change, either she or her husband is late to work “every day” because they have to drive their daughter to the group stop.
Smith described the stop as “a gas station” and said there is “no sidewalk and no safety.”
She told the committee that she is concerned about it being dark at the stop in the morning, and worried about potential predators learning there is a school bus stop there and snow and plowing there in the winter.
“[We] need to ask if we can go back the other way,” Smith told the committee.
Member Lee Kissinger, in agreement with the rest of the group, said the school committee would address the issues with the bus company and with RIDE but both he and Zuercher pointed to the economic climate and said they have doubts that group stops would be eliminated.
Multiple parents at the meeting said that when they had called RIDE, the district was been blamed for the change and called the whole process a “merry-go-round.”
School Committee Vice Chairperson Mark Rafanelli asked for names of those at RIDE who blame the district.
Smith, meanwhile, asked the committee how long it might be before parents knew what the school committee planned to do.
“It can’t be open-ended,” she said.
She and another parent said their employers were upset with them over their repeated tardiness since school started.
Another concern raised by parents on the issue was the “double-standard” they felt was being used for students receiving “in-district” versus “out-of-district” transportation. One parent suggested that the district policy, which does not allow for a student to walk more than a mile to a bus stop, be applied to all students, thus eliminating parents’ need to drive to group stops.
Maia-Cicero, who said she had one child who just graduated from Prout, told parents that she understood where they were coming from, but that in her experience complaints to RIDE had to come from parents, not the district.
The school committee also wanted to look into why there were group stops in the morning for the students but why, in the afternoon, they were dropped off exactly as they were last year.
Parents pleaded that the school committee not move to group stops in the afternoon.
The item will be placed on the school committee’s Sept. 25 meeting agenda. The meeting will be held at the Exeter-West Greenwich Jr.-Sr. High School Library at 6 p.m. Parents are encouraged to contact Director of Administration Robert Ross with their concerns.