School started on Thursday, but 134 students in Manatee County’s lowest-performing schools who qualified to attend a better school this year do not yet have a school bus.
District spokesman Mike Barber said 134 students from Oneco Elementary, Rogers Garden Elementary and Sugg Middle School applied for and received Opportunity Scholarships from the state because their schools earned three consecutive D’s or F’s. But Barber said the Florida Department of Education was late in notifying Manatee which students qualified, so those 134 students won’t have bus service until hubs are established by Sept. 4.
“Unfortunately, the state was late in informing our district as to the identity of those students,” deputy superintendent for operations Ron Ciranna wrote in an email to district staff. “Therefore, bus transportation will not be available for these students until transportation hubs can be established.”
Unfortunately, the state was late in informing our district as to the identity of those students. Therefore, bus transportation will not be available for these students until transportation hubs can be established.
Manatee Schools deputy superintendent for operations Ron Ciranna
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DOE spokeswoman Audrey Walden said the state sent the information out on July 14, four days earlier than it did last year. She said the law does not specify a deadline for giving districts the information.
Barber clarified the district’s position Thursday evening.
“It’s late in the sense that by the time we get that information, we don’t have enough time to turn around and set up transportation hubs,” Barber said.
After the district got the information, the district contacted parents and gave them until Aug. 4 to sign up for bus service, which Barber said didn’t give the district enough time to arrange bus service.
In the meantime, the district has told those parents they will need to provide their child’s transportation. If they can’t, Ciranna said those students should attend their zoned school until the hubs are established.
“As you know, it is very important that students attend school,” Ciranna’s email stated. “If parents do not have the ability to drive their child to the Opportunity Scholarship school, we want the child to attend the zoned school.”
Michael LaClair’s son attended Harllee Middle School last year, which the district shut down in June after several years of low performance. LaClair’s son was then slated to attend Sugg, which has not scored higher than a D in the past five years. LaClair applied for an Opportunity Scholarship for his son to attend Haile Middle School, which is 12 miles from his home in Oneco. He is not happy with the thought of his son having to attend Sugg for the first three weeks of school and then transferring to Haile.
I just want some accountability.
Michael LaClair, parent of child who received Opportunity Scholarship to attend Haile Middle School
“I just want some accountability,” LaClair said. “If I turned to the school system and said my car is broke down for the next two weeks and said I’ll just bring my kid in when it’s fixed, I’d be in a world of trouble.”
Middle school students who received opportunity scholarships could choose to attend Haile, Lincoln or Nolan middle schools. Elementary students could choose from Manatee, Palma Sola, Sea Breeze or Stewart elementary schools.
Barber said the issue was not related to the shortage of school bus drivers that is impacting several districts nationwide. He said the difficulty was accommodating students in a spread-out geographical area and the lateness of the information from the DOE.
Parents of children who will attend their zoned school until bus transportation is established will need to go into the school and fill out forms to enroll the child. Barber said all students who received Opportunity Scholarships are guaranteed their spot in the school they selected, and they will be able to transfer there as soon as bus hubs are up and running.