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Parents upset at changes

COVINGTON - For the second week, parents of students attending the new parent-involvement theme schools in Newton County, Clements and Fairview, attended a school board meeting to voice complaints about a recent change in transportation.

More than a dozen parents showed up at the Newton County Board of Education regular session monthly meeting Tuesday to ask the board members questions and express their unhappiness regarding the decision that was made last week to halt afternoon bus transportation to students' homes. Several other parents supported the speakers in the audience while they shared their thoughts with the school board for about an hour.

This comes a week after several parents attended the board's monthly work session and expressed the same concerns.

"It was my understanding that (my child at Clements) would be bused," said parent Catherine Moorehead, adding that she thought the only differences between the theme schools and the other Newton County public schools would be higher standards and more parent involvement.

"I don't understand why buses are affected at all. I'm paying my Newton County taxes. I had higher expectations, and I'm not sure we're seeing any promises that were made."

Although when the theme schools were introduced to parents in January the Newton County School System said bus transportation would be limited, some families living inside of the old attendance zones for Clements Middle School and Fairview Elementary School said their children were assigned a bus number for both morning and afternoon transportation to and from their homes.

On Aug. 10, NCSS sent a letter to parents stating that as of Monday, buses no longer would drop off those students at their homes in the afternoon, but the morning service at the homes would remain the same. Instead, students at the theme schools could be picked up at the schools or be bused to one of four drop-off points in the afternoons; if that was not an option, NCSS gave parents the option to transfer their students back to their assigned schools.

On day five of the school year, 979 students were enrolled in the two theme schools; as of Wednesday, 932 were enrolled.

NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley told parents during a work session that they also could use the schools' after-school program, but slots have since filled up.

In the letter, Whatley said the transportation change would help congested traffic at the schools, since most of the students at the schools are car-riders.

During Tuesday's meeting, he and the board members also explained that the decision also was based on finances.

"This is a difficult time for families. ... It is also a difficult time for education," said school board Chair C.C. Bates, whose child attends one of the theme schools.

Some parents said they would not be as upset about the transportation situation if it had been explained before the school year started, rather than two weeks into it.

"If all parents knew transportation would not be provided, we would not be standing here. ... This decision made - giving parents three days (to find transportation) - was completely unacceptable," said Lisbeth Perez-Cox during the meeting. "It was a complete disregard to my family, to my child and everybody's child. It's not fair that after my child was promised transportation to and from home - not to some bus parking lot - it was taken away."

Some board members apologized for the lateness of the decision.

"We apologize for that inconvenience," Bates said. "It should have been made prior to the start of school. ... We are trying to make decisions that will benefit 20,000 children."

Although board members said the theme school transportation will remain the same as it is now, Whatley said the school system is looking at adding more staff to accommodate more students in the after-school programs at the schools and also allow for some students in a neighboring subdivision to walk home, which is currently not allowed. Another drop-off point also may be added, and the school system might be able to buy back student uniforms, which also are allowed at the other NCSS schools if a child chooses to transfer back to them.

"We will be looking at all of the concerns that have been expressed," he said. "We will address as many of these as we can."

Board member Almond Turner asked the parents to be patient with the school system.

"Give us the opportunity to work these things out," he said. "We are concerned about it, and if you don't give us ideas and give us concerns, we just go along. We have to look at the big picture, and every decision we make is going to have a domino effect on everything else."

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.