Letters to the Editor

School district writes to Mr. Federal Way | Letters

Dear Mr. Federal Way,

I enjoy reading your column each week, and noticed the concerns voiced about the lack of bus transportation within a mile of a school and, more recently, about the lack of lockers in schools. I'd like to offer some additional context, and a suggestion regarding your transportation concerns.

According to our district’s administrative policies and procedures, transportation services are provided when a student’s bus stop is more than one radius mile from their assigned school.

Although there is a financial reason behind this policy, your assumption that this is a cost-cutting method by the district is not accurate. The state historically did not fund transportation within a radius mile (which is even farther than a walking mile in most cases, since walking routes generally don't follow a straight line to school).

The state's radius mile rule has been eliminated, but districts still do not receive state reimbursement for transporting students within a walking mile. Mr. Federal Way can view OSPI's definition of our walking areas online. The maps at this website will give you a sense of the challenges these state-determined reimbursement-free zones present to school districts.

That said, our greatest priority is the safety of our students. The district monitors walking routes, and in circumstances where there is clearly no safe walking route from a child's home to his/her school, we will add transportation service. We simply do not get reimbursed by the state for providing transportation in those cases.

If you would like to provide your home's address, our transportation and security staff will review the walking routes available to your child. They tell me the evaluation will consider things like traffic volume, traffic speed, adequate shoulder width, crossing of arterials, as well as age of student.

There is no perfect school bus stop or walking area because it is impossible to eliminate all potential hazards. We do everything within our power to make the best decisions for the safety of your children. But there are times when parents can provide additional information about a route that our staff simply doesn't have. This is why parents and our staff need to work together to ensure the safety to our students. If you want to have this evaluation done, please call the Director of Transportation Services, Cindy Wendland, at (253) 945-5960.

In regard to the locker issue, think back to the early 1990s, and the increased awareness and emphasis on school safety and security at that time. Districts including Federal Way decided to move away from providing lockers in order to limit the variety of hazards and security challenges that lockers present. The challenge in that, of course was in how to limit the number of books a child needed to carry from class to class and school to home.

When budgets were larger, before the recession and a dozen years of reduced state funding, the district's goal was to provide two textbooks for every child, one for home and one for school. Unfortunately, we only partially achieved that goal.

As you noted in the article about the new library, the trend now is toward using tablets as a replacement for books in general. The availability of affordable tablets is attractive to school districts for a couple of reasons. First, a textbook provided on a tablet does not become outdated, presuming the publisher makes updates and revisions available for download.

In addition, they are easier to take with than a textbook. As we move toward one-to-one technology in education, students carrying backpacks full of books could potentially become a thing of the past.

I hope this gives you a little more insight into these two issues. Any time you have a question or concern about our schools' policies and procedures, don't hesitate to ask!

Debra Stenberg, Communications Director, Federal Way Public Schools


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