A parent told the Upshur County Board of Education this week that he feels a transportation policy oversteps his authority over his own child.
The policy concerning student safety in the absence of a parent or guardian has been in place since 2002, but the board is considering expanding it from kindergarten students up to third graders, Superintendent of Schools Scott Lampinen said.
The policy expansion was up for its second reading at Tuesday's meeting, but the board decided to delay the second reading for further discussion after Greg Phillips, the parent of a 7-year old boy, voiced his concerns.
"I really fail to understand why we need to mandate this," Philllips said. "If I can't make appropriate decisions as a parent - I'm not going to ask you their nutritional needs or when I put them to bed, that's my business as a parent. Quite frankly, I'm offended. I should be able to make decisions for my children."
Assistant Superintendent David Dilly said the proposed policy extension was prompted by questions as to where students would go if no one was available to pick them up after school.
Sherry Dean, the director of school transportation, said that, on average, four or five students a day don't have a parent or designee waiting to pick them up at their bus stop, and four or five students a month will be taken back to the transportation department as a result. Dean said three students had to be transported back to their school on Tuesday.
Dilly said students are usually taken back to their home school, where he tries to contact the parents using emergency numbers, and previously provided information that lists the names of those available to transport a child from school.
"Just as long as we know who it is and that somebody's going to be there to be responsible for that child," Dean said.
Dean normally picks the students up from the school and takes them to a destination where a parent or guardian can get them, rather than leave them unattended. If no one is at the school, the child will be transported to the bus driver's training area at the bus garage, where several students already wait to be picked up after school and have activities provided for them while they wait.
"My main agenda is keeping our children safe at all costs," Dean said.
Dean said that if a parent doesn't have transportation, officials arrange to have the child transported home.
"We do whatever is best for that child at that point," Dean said.
Phillips told the board he typically works far away and doesn't want his child sitting in a bus garage for hours.
"Parents should be able to say, 'Drop them off one way or another,'" he said, adding that he has a 13-year old child whom he could designate to watch his younger son, but that his older child's bus normally arrives several minutes later than the bus transporting his younger son.
"I really disagree that the board can mandate my parenting and personal decisions," Phillips said. "It's a dilemma for the board. I understand there are examples of bad parenting everywhere, but to mandate this ..."
Phillips referred to safety concerns that could arise from kindergarten to third-grade students walking or riding bikes to school on busy streets.
"And the parents are allowed to make that decision if they want. Why are they, as parents, allowed to allow their child to walk or ride the bike to school, downtown, (at) busiest time of day, and I have to be at a bus stop," Phillips said.
Dean mentioned a specific example of why she felt the proposed policy espansion is important.
"A little 5-year old was found walking up the road, going toward the four-lane, because no one was home. He knew his mommy was 'that way,'" Dean said. "We've had children who were locked out of the house and were sitting on the porch in the sun. I just don't feel it's safe for our kids."
In cases where a parent or guardian cannot be contacted, some counties transport students to the school, the bus garage or even to the county Sheriff's Department. Dean said 30 counties in the state have similar policies.
However, Phillips said if the policy is mandated, parents should at least have the right to make those decisions regarding their child by submitting a waiver. He said one day when he was running behind schedule, he was following his child's bus in his vehicle when his son was not dropped off. He said he had to follow the bus to the bus garage in order to pick up his child.
Lampinen said that the proposed policy extension provides a waiver option regarding third-grade students under extenuating circumstances. That option had not been provided previously, he said. However, Phillips' son is not yet in third grade.