A Midway woman is aiming to bring school transportation issues to light after a student she knows reportedly was sexually solicited at a convenience store near his bus stop.
Citing concerns of neglect, Shannon Watson brought the story to the Courier’s attention — but Liberty County School System officials say there is more to the story than meets the eye.
“Although both the school and the police were notified of the incident, apparently everyone believes that it is still appropriate to continue to require this young man to be transported to and from the same place,” Watson said. “This infuriates me.”
Watson is one of several women who coordinate to provide transportation for the Ombudsman Educational Services student, whose guardian works and is unable to transport him, to and from his stop at Holton’s Seafood.
Because the women live around Sunbury, the round-trip is 10 miles for them, and they make it twice daily.
“That’s a gallon of gas a day,” Watson said. The student, whose name was not provided to the Courier to protect his privacy, would have to make a 2-mile trek to his bus stop without help from the women.
“This walk takes him across the I-95 overpass and down a dirt road,” she said. “No sidewalks, no people … “I wouldn’t let my 19-year-old kids walk through there, you know, and it’s not like the bus can’t get down the road, … it infuriates me, it drives me crazy.”
The solicitation reportedly happened a couple of weeks ago, after the student used the restroom at a convenience store when a driver was running late to pick him up, Watson said. An older man propositioned the student with obscene language.
“He was really freaked out. He told the guy, ‘No,’ and just started heading up the road,” Watson said.
While the would-be offender left the scene and the student was not harmed, Watson hopes bringing the matter to light will urge the transportation department to change its drop-off point for the student.
It’s not the first complaint the Courier has received about bus-related issues. Parents previously have questioned the location of bus stops and the distance their children have to walk to reach them.
But LCSS Transportation Director Tony Norce said the district is not only complying with state laws when serving students, but it is exceeding distance requirements.
The state says regular-education students can walk up to half a mile to reach their bus stops, but LCSS tries to keep stops within a three-tenths mile radius from students’ homes, Norce said.
In some cases, students may be required to walk or find their own transportation for spans up to a mile and a half. O.C.G.A. § 20-2-188 states that students who live within a mile and a half of schools according to practical routes do not qualify for transportation — or count toward state transportation funding numbers, unless they are disabled.
The district does provide door-to-door service to special-needs students, Norce added.
As for the case Watson presented, Norce said her queries were the first he has heard of it.
But because the Ombudsman program is an alternative school, LCSS is not required to provide transportation for Ombudsman students. It does so as a courtesy, Norce said.
“Ombudsman students are informed what the transportation guidelines are when they enter the program,” he said. “The understanding is that LCSS transportation will provide numerous locations throughout the county to be used as group pick-up/drop-off areas for Ombudsman students. It is the parent’s option to either use or not use the transportation provided by the county. If they choose to use the LCSS transportation, it is the parent’s responsibility to get the students to and from the designated stops.”
Ombudmsan South Georgia operations manager Arnold Wright said he did not have any comments to provide because Ombudsman is not involved in transportation issues and is not legally required to be.
Because the Liberty County School System contracts with Ombudsman and provides support funding — and the students still are enrolled in their home schools — Watson said it should hold more responsibility for ensuring the safety of its students.
But the district is not likely to revisit the transportation system because an overhaul to routes is not feasible.
“Bus transportation to the Ombudsman schools is provided as a service to the students, not a requirement,” Norce said. “We could not provide door-to-door service to these students without a large increase in transportation cost to the district. The amount of drivers required to provide door-to-door service in the time we have available would increase the cost of transporting Ombudsman students dramatically.”