Before making a decision to close Wakarusa Valley, the Lawrence Board of Education should investigate several factors affecting transportation:
Rural students will face significantly increased travel time. Currently, research indicates that children suffer negative effects from bus rides 30 to 60 minutes in length or more (Lu and Tweeten 1973; Zars 1998; Howley, Howley and Shamblen 2001; Ramage and Howley 2005; Spence 2000, Howley 2000; Bard, Clark, and Wieland 2010; Fox 1996). These effects include fatigue, parent disengagement from school, devaluation of children’s time and reductions in academic achievement, extracurricular participation, out-of-school study time, attendance, and physical activity.
Wakarusa Valley serves an area close to 80 square miles, 2.8 times larger than the region within Lawrence's city boundaries. From the physical conditions subcommittee of the USD 497 elementary task force, page 22: “Wakarusa Valley is the farthest southwest school serving the district. The geographic area served by this school includes the towns of Clinton and Stull … Given the geography of the area Wakarusa Valley serves, it would seem impracticable and not cost effective to bus students from the boundary edges to an alternative school.”
Our community has heard arguments stating that because Wakarusa Valley families chose to live in rural areas, they should accept the required lengthening of bus rides to and from school that will result from a WV closure. This argument is a fallacy. When WV families chose to live in rural Douglas County, an elementary school was available that was factored into the selection of where to raise their children. Many of these families sacrificed the convenience of town precisely because they knew an excellent school was available locally. Many WV families chose to live in the area for the school. Other families are multi-generation farm families, who built WV before it became part of USD 497.
With the closure of WV, many children that are currently bused to Wakarusa Valley will face a lasting negative influence on their schooling, even as they adjust to a new school and community. The suggestions offered below will reduce, but not eliminate, the impact of such a closure on its students. These suggestions should be examined before the decision to close WV is made, to determine the true financial cost of closure:
Bus rides of 45 minutes or less for all rural students. According to a study by Theibeault, Zetler, and Wilson (1997), 90 minutes per day (i.e. 45 minutes each way) is the maximum that a student should ride a bus (Spence 2000).
Maximum of 10 additional minutes per bus route for all children affected by school closure. Given the results of research described above, adding even an additional 10 minutes per bus route makes for very long rides for Lawrence’s rural children in the current WV region.
Adjusted start times at LHS, South and Broken Arrow. Elementary students should never be expected to wait in a parking lot or on a bus for more time than it takes to load the bus.
No elementary student shall be expected to transfer buses as part of their daily route. This is confusing for elementary students and dangerous for all students, especially if the transfer spot, Wakarusa Valley, were a closed building.
Creation of a separate parking lot for buses only, either at South or Broken Arrow. No cars should be allowed in this lot while buses are loading or unloading. These parking lots are already overcrowded; the addition of 80-100 kids to Broken Arrow will make the situation worse. To minimize bus travel time and ensure the safety of the elementary children, a busing area separate from car pickup should be created.
Rural buses transporting K-12 students will be monitored by someone other than the bus driver on routes longer than 30 minutes. The bus driver is responsible for safely transporting students. He/she should not also be responsible for discipline. Discipline issues which arise on school buses include bullying, fighting and weapons, sexual harassment and exposure to inappropriate language and subjects.
Bus drivers will be given first aid training. All adults that are solely responsible for children for extended periods of time should have first aid training.