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Parents pressure CPS to help families without busing

A group of Chicago Public School parents I’m tired of the lack of buses They took their case to City Hall in a spirited protest on Tuesday, calling for busing for all students in Chicago for students at magnet and selective enrollment schools during the 2023-24 school year.

More than a hundred people gathered at Daley Plaza downtown and used the symbolism of the traditional yellow bus to deliver their message home. Wearing yellow school bus shirts and holding signs shaped like school buses, they demanded buses for 5,500 students who were promised transportation while enrolled in district magnet and selective enrollment schools.

A handful of elementary-aged students attended the event with their parents, skipping recess, lunch or classes to defend their transportation.

“We all want equal educational opportunities for all students, regardless of their race, their income, their neighborhood, their background,” said Hal Woods, policy chief at Kids First Chicago, a nonprofit that advocates for parents to have a voice in public education. .

“Parents have made tremendous sacrifices to send their children to school, often at the expense of their jobs, wallets, and family and household responsibilities,” he said. “This is a very tiring task.”

The protest was organized by CPS Bus Parents, a citywide volunteer group of parents who found themselves scrambling to get their children to school after the district announced bus transportation would not be available to general education students three weeks before the school year began.

Without school buses, parents and children have to make daily commutes four hoursdriving to school or transferring between buses and trains.

Since August, CPS has only provided transportation to students with disabilities or special education plans that may require transportation, such as individual education plans or 504 plans. It also provides transportation to students in transitional living situations for whom the district is federally mandated to provide transportation services.

In a letter to parents in August, the district cited the ongoing bus driver shortage as being behind the decision to suspend bus service for the remaining 5,500 students across the school system. Despite increased wages and hiring fairs offered by the district, bus drivers were still in short supply in December, leading to the suspension of bus service in the spring 2024 semester.

As of Monday, the district said it provided bus transportation to 8,395 students with disabilities and 135 students in transitional living situations and provided scholarships to an additional 3,800 students, according to CPS. Transportation requests are processed as soon as they are submitted, the district said.

Parents’ and advocates’ demands for the district include a long-term commitment to restore busing, which they say is promised to children accepted into attractive, selective-enrollment schools.

And until more drivers are hired, parents are demanding “emergency” transportation stipends from CPS to offset out-of-pocket costs for parents paying for public transportation and, in some cases, expensive third-party ridesharing services.

In a statement to the Tribune, a CPS spokesperson said providing scholarships to general education students is not appropriate for the district, which is projecting a budget shortfall next year. Students who qualify for district-mandated transportation but do not have access to services this year may receive a refund for a $35-per-month CTA Ventra card.

Protesters also recognized parents who they said were forced to transfer their children to other schools because the demands to get them to school were so great.

“The families that somehow put together the time and resources to make this work are the lucky ones because many other families can’t afford that sacrifice,” said Jessica Handy, executive director of Stand for Children Illinois.

CPS said the district did not have data to support claims that students were forced to transfer due to transportation difficulties and asked parents for data supporting the claims.

Additionally, the district said school leaders are committed to “finding a solution to the ongoing national bus driver shortage and its impact on our CPS families.”

“We will strive to provide families with a more timely transportation update for the 2024-25 school year,” the statement said.

CPS parent Emily Liu brought her son, Eric Xia, who attends Skinner North Classical School on the Near North Side, to the protest to teach him his right to protest and help him understand why he suddenly couldn’t accept this punishment. by bus to school.

While Liu was grateful to have the flexibility in her remote work-from-home job, she added that planning transportation to school created stress for her, in addition to having another parent organize a carpool from their home’s neighborhood in the South Loop.

“There always needs to be an arrangement to take children to school,” Liu said at Tuesday’s protest. “And I worry about driving the other kids to school if there is an accident.”

“It’s really scary,” added Young Ri, who carpooled with Liu to make sure her 9-year-old son Noah could get to Skinner North.

Liu said her children often say that school bus rides are the best part of school.

Eric, 9, laughed and smiled proudly as he joined a group of children holding up a large yellow sign he had painted for more buses and chanting, “All I want is transportation.” She said she missed recess on Tuesday to go downtown and still “loves school” even though she couldn’t take the bus this year.

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