Archive for February, 2010

Lee County Bus Problem Solved By 4 Year Old

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Dominick, the subject of several of my blog posts, has been riding the bus nearly 2 hours each way every day to school this past year.  The local news station, Fox 4, has highlighted his story and others, discussing the poor planning, wasted money, and outrageous rides imposed on toddlers.  In an unexpected and wonderous way, his 4 year old brother, Damien, and Damien’s school hold the solution.

Damien is an ESE student (special ed, for the non-parents).  Damien has no disabilities, per se;  he’s referred to as “developmentally delayed”…he’s just taken longer to learn basic academics than other kids.  As part of the program at his school, we have meetings a couple times a year with his teacher, the ESE program director, and Damien’s specialists, to determine the game plan for his education to get back on par with other students.  We had such a meeting this past week.

The ride to Damien’s school was surreal.   The geniuses on the school board have Dominick riding from our house in the far NW corner of the city all the way across town to the far SE corner…about as far as you can go and stay in the city.  The ride when it’s not rush hour is nearly 30 minutes.  During rush hour, with buses it takes closer to 50 minutes.  Add to that the other parents dropping off their kids and the fact that the drop-off/pick-up route goes right through the visitor’s parking lot, and the ride to drop him off in the morning is about 90 minutes.  This is part of the reason we don’t pick him up / drop him off from school…it’s too little time saved on his bus ride for the expense.  In stark contrast, Damien’s school, Skyline, is on the SW side of the city.  The ride to took 10 minutes…door-to-door.  Plus the visitor’s parking lot is completely separate from the pickup/drop-off point so you can have a meeting at the school without being stuck in a bunch of daily morning traffic.  Crystal and I were shocked.

While we were waiting for his program, we began BSing with the administrators in the office.  ”Is traffic always like this in the morning?”  I asked.

“Why was it bad?  Usually it moves along pretty quick,” one of the girls behind the desk replied.

“No it was quick…10 minutes to get here.  It takes an hour and a half to go to our other son’s school.”

“Why doesn’t he come here?” she asked.

“This whole stupid school choice thing,” Crystal replied.  ”Dominick didn’t go to any of the three schools I picked, and Damien couldn’t go to his school, because they didn’t have an ESE program.”

“So why don’t you have Dominick come here?” the woman asked again.

“Do you have availability?  I’ve called around to some schools closer to us than you, but 1.) they tell me they don’t have any openings and 2.) their bus rides aren’t much shorter.” (Damien rides the bus for an hour in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon.)

“You’d have to call school choice to verify…they’re the ones that decide if we have availabilities.  But I’d think we do.  Also let them know his brother comes here.  They give preference to siblings.”

A light bulb turned on over both Crystal and my heads.  10 minutes…and that’s normal?  Holy crap, we could totally drive him to school if it came down to it.  That would so be worth it.  Plus we generally like Damien’s school, Skyline Elementary.  Dominick goes to Cape Elementary and we find it kind of stuffy.

For example, during orientation at the beginning of the year, Dominick’s teacher informed us that the first week of school the kids would work on a mission statement.  ”Mission statement,” I asked.  ”What is a mission statement?”  I know what it is in the corporate world, but what does that have to do with Kindergarten? “Well, determine their goals for the year, as a group.”  LMFAO.  Are you kidding me?  Their 5 and 6!!  I’m his dad…how about you let me set the goals…make sure he knows his ABC’s, 123’s, he can do basic addition, some reading and writing, and if he gets that all down pat, maybe a little subtraction, and basic science and history.    Mission statement.  Please!

So after we left Damien’s ESE meeting, we went to the School Choice office.  We had to take a number and wait, though the wait was barely 5 minutes.  While waiting Crystal noticed a sign: “Due to FCAT, no in-zone transfers between February 3rd and 16th.” (Translation: due to the Florida standardized testing, you can’t change school for a couple weeks.)  ”I don’t care what they say,” Crystal growled.  ”They can at least start the paperwork.”  We spoke to a woman named Mrs. Major.  We explained the situation and that we were wondering if Skyline (Damien’s school) had any availability for Dominick.  ”You may have seen us on the news,” I threw in. “Really?” she replied, somewhat nervously.  ”Yeah, we’ve been fighting with the school board over this for a while now.”  Hurriedly, she said “Let me go speak with my boss.”  She came back 2 minutes later.  ”Sure, no problem.”  She explained the procedure…we’d have to withdraw Dominick from Cape Elementary, then enroll him at Skyline the same day.  The following week he could ride with his brother to school and he’d be all set.  We had her repeat everything three times.  Yep, that’s it.

“That was the quickest thing I think we’ve fixed since we’ve lived here,” Crystal later told me.  ”15 minutes and the problem is solved.”

“I feel somewhat guilty, that as his parents we didn’t push harder, ” I replied.  ”But the schools we called said they had no availabilities.  And we called several that were closer than Damien’s school.  Plus Fox seemed to make it sound like it was hopeless.”

“That’s another thing,” Crystal said.  ”How is it that all these schools say ‘we have no availabilities’, meanwhile Skyline says they don’t know and we have to talk to School Choice about it?  Somebody’s full of it.”

Like always, Crystal makes the most sense out of everybody.  If this was such an easy fix, why hasn’t anybody bothered mentioning it?  The superintendent of the school system.  (Would’ve made him look much less like a jack ass!)  The school board member that came to our house?  The Fox news channel that has been covering this story?  The other schools we spoke to?  No one.

We are waiting patiently for Dominick’s transfer, the week after Valentine’s Day.  But woohooo!!  Our boy’s going to finally get a reasonable bus ride!!!

For those of you who may be parents facing a similar issue with your child, here’s the unadulterated truth from School Choice in Lee County, FL:

Prioritization of Students for School Placement goes as follows:

1. Students in full-time special education classes (Only 4 of the 14 schools in our zone have a special ed program.)

2. Siblings wanting to attend the same school

3. Students living within proximity areas around each school.

4. Students whose first choice is a school within their sub-zone.

5. Random number tie breaker – If you’re not local to the school, and your kid’s going to ride the bus, you then play they lottery, which is based on availability.

Also note: School Choice themselves said that if your child has an excessively long ride, that constitutes an extenuating circumstance and they will give you priority for transferring schools.

Don’t listen to the BS.  Go to the School Choice office.  For the west zone, it is in the Cape Coral High Tech North office, just North of Hector Cafrarta Elementary in Cape Coral.  1/2 mile North of Pine Island on Santa Barbara in the High Tech building (west side of the road.)  Here’s their address: 360 Santa Barbara Boulevard North, Cape Coral, FL 33993

I’ll post an update in a couple weeks, letting you know how the transfer went.