Racine school district responds to criticism of busing plan for private school students this fall

NOW: Racine school district responds to criticism of busing plan for private school students this fall

RACINE (CBS 58) -- The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty issued a letter to the Racine Unified School District saying the district was violating state and federal law in the way it was handling busing for Racine students attending in-person classes at private schools, according to a press release issued Friday, August 14. 

The Racine Unified School District is starting the year virtual, but according to the Department of Public Instruction, according to Wisconsin law, a pupil attending a private elementary or high school in Wisconsin is entitled to transportation provided by the public school district in which the student resides, if certain criteria are met. 

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty sent the letter on behalf of the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools, saying the district was not providing bus service for students at the time when they needed to be at school. 

The letter stated in part, "It is also our understanding that RUSD is nevertheless refusing to provide yellow bus service, as it has in the past, to many Racine students attending private schools except at times that do not coincide with their schools' start and end times. For example, RUSD has said that it will drop off children at some schools at 9:00 a.m. and pick them up at 4:15 p.m. even though school starts at 8:05 a.m. and ends at 3:10 p.m."

“The Racine school district is telling private school students that its plan for busing won’t get them to school on time. Missing school time is not acceptable. The District needs to rethink its approach and do what is in the best interest of children," Sharon Schmeling, Executive Director for the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools, said in a press release. 

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty said it is asking the district to resolve the issue before the start of the school year, and without changes WILL intends to consider legal options. 

The district sent the following statement in response: 

RUSD’s job is to coordinate transportation for more than 21,000 Racine students – public and private. This year, in light of the pandemic, RUSD has undertaken a huge task in coordinating school bus routes that ensure social distancing and safety precautions for ALL students this fall. This has required us to make significant changes including adjusting some pick-up and drop-off times. RUSD schools will also be impacted. When we re-open, 7 RUSD elementary schools will (upon Board approval) have new start and end times that vary by up to 2 hours.
In addition to ensuring the safety of students, we worked diligently to create routes that will remain consistent regardless of whether schools are remote or in-person. We have developed a plan that is flexible and provides as much stability for ALL families as possible. We recognize how difficult it is for a family to adjust start and end times in the middle of a school year – this plan avoids that.
In light of these challenging circumstances, we have asked the private and parochial schools to work with us this year to accommodate the necessary bus times and to ensure safety and stability for all students.
Above and beyond this bus route plan, we have offered another alternative to non-public schools. If these times will not work for them, we will provide parent contracts for their families. This provides reimbursement for some transportation expenses to each eligible family.
We have worked closely with DPI in the development of this plan to ensure it follows state statute. We are prepared to begin busing more than 1,700 private and parochial school students next week.
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