Manatee School District IDs unsafe walking routes to schools
MANATEE -- After identifying barriers keeping students from attending class every day, the Manatee County School District is requesting a state waiver to allow it to add bus stops within a 2-mile radius for six elementary schools.
"The areas are too dangerous to walk," said Sandra Ford, district chief support services officer.
The proposal was presented to Manatee County's Children's Services Advisory Board recently. The district must work with local agencies to identify dangerous areas before sending a proposal to the state. If the state signs off, the district will be reimbursed a portion of the transportation cost.
In Florida, districts are reimbursed for transporting students who live more than 2 miles from zoned schools. Students within a 2-mile radius are expected to walk or have their own transportation. Gabby's Law for Student Safety provides districts a process to identify hazardous walking conditions and offers some financial relief.
Right now, 250 elementary school students districtwide already fall under this provision, Ford said. The district is hoping to add six more elementary schools for the start of the 2016-17 year: Rogers Garden, Tillman, Manatee, Ballard, Samoset and Daughtrey.
The new proposal came out of the district Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national initiative to have students reading on grade level by the end of third grade. One component of the campaign is attendance. The district is focusing on increasing attendance with the idea being students who aren't in class can't learn.
The district hired graduation enhancement technicians for each of the 25 Title I schools to help identify what keeps students from attending school every day.
"They're going out in the community to find out," Ford said.
The district is scoping out the identified areas to see if other potential options would make routes safer for students. Other options could include sidewalk improvements or more crossing guards provided by local law enforcement. If the district feels the areas are candidates for the state reimbursement process, they'll have to work with the local government, local law enforcement and metropolitan planning organizations to deem the areas dangerous.
Ford said the district will need to have the information to the state by June 1 to get relief next year.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.