South Orange-Maplewood Proposes Eliminating Courtesy Busing to Provide Flexibility for Integration Plan

by Bruno J. Navarro
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South Orange and Maplewood students who live within a certain distance from their public schools won’t receive courtesy busing under a new proposed transportation policy, Board of Education member Susan Bergin said at the March 22 meeting.

“This policy is being updated based on upcoming changes with the elementary integration plan,” Bergin said. “I want everyone to be aware that this means that some students who receive transportation this year may not receive it next year.”

Under New Jersey state law, districts of a certain size are required to provide busing for students who live beyond a prescribed distance. The South Orange-Maplewood School District normally provides busing for elementary students who live more than two miles from their schools and for ninth- through 12th-graders who live more than 2.5 miles from Columbia High School. Those students are not affected by the proposed changes to Policy 8600.

Under the new proposal, students who live less than two miles from their elementary or middle school, as well as CHS students who are within 2.5 miles, will no longer receive courtesy busing.

Screenshot of Susan Bergin

Board of Education member Susan Bergin discusses the proposed transportation policy at the March 22, 2021, meeting.

The proposed policy will still allow discretion “for transportation on hazardous routes, such as those that cross busy roads,” said Bergin, who chairs the BOE Policy Committee. “And between now and the next board meeting we’re going to revise it to retain the shuttle service provisions between South Mountain and the Annex, and also add shuttle service between Seth Boyden and CHS.”

The policy will likely be discussed for a second read at the April 19 Board of Education meeting.

SOMSD spokesperson Anide Eustache told the Village Green via email that the policy was updated “to reflect what New Jersey law mandates (regarding the mileage that triggers transportation offerings to parents).”

“This also allows for us the space to redesign and bid our transportation needs this summer, as the plan will definitely be impacted by the outcome of our Intentional Integration Initiative,” she added.

The Board of Education in June 2020 approved an integration plan beginning in the fall of 2021 to ensure that each school reflects the racial and socioeconomic diversity of Maplewood and South Orange, beginning with the incoming kindergarten class.

Eustache reiterated that the policy “still has space for routes to be added” for students with unsafe routes to school.

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