Elizabeth Mundell was not pleased to find out her daughter will ride the school bus four times each day next year. And she let a reporter from The Batavian know it in no uncertain terms at the Byron-Bergen Jr./Sr. High School on Thursday night.
Her sixth-grader will take the bus to Byron-Bergen Elementary, then go to the high school, back to the elementary school again, and head home after that.
Mundell worries her daughter and other sixth-grade students will be missing valuable learning due to extra transportation time.
The reason for all the busing back-and-forth? To accommodate the ongoing $20.5 million Capital Improvement Project, which began last summer and concludes next year.
The project is largely state-funded, and it aims to increase long-term school safety, energy efficiency and educational opportunities for students.
Yet in the short-term, until it is completed, sixth-graders will apparently bear the brunt of the transitions prompted by it.
Mundell, along with other parents, only recently received information about changes to sixth-graders' schedules for the upcoming academic year.
The central focus of the project is the elementary school classrooms.
For the past half century, since the summer NASA astronauts landed on the moon, they have not been updated to meet the NYS Education Department’s codes and regulations.
The sheer scope of the long-overdue renovations means they'll still be at it once school resumes in the fall.
As a result, it is the sixth-grade classrooms that will be relocated to the Jr./Sr. High School for the 2019–20 academic year.
Sixth-graders will be shuttled about between the elementary and high schools for different classes and activities at the beginning and end of each day.
Parents are learning more details about the poor conditions that necessitated the project as it moves along.
Classrooms were significantly smaller than the recommended size. According to an informational handout produced by the district, students have been receiving instruction in cramped spaces as narrow as closets and hallways.
Other district-wide improvements will include fire alarm and kitchen equipment replacements, removal of deadly asbestos, roof repair and ADA-compliant toilet facilities that will be wide enough for children's wheelchairs to access them for the first time. (The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990.)
The Capital Building Project was voted down on March 31, 2017, and did not receive enough support until the next vote on Sept. 21, 2017.
But many parents now say they were poorly informed about how the capital improvements, though badly needed, would impact their children's schedule when they cast their votes.
“We’ve been given so little information about what else was explored,” Mundell said. “Personally, I never would have voted for this capital project if I had known it would mean kids spending a year being bused back and forth.”
Parents also wonder if all the time spent on the road will interfere with daily instruction in classrooms.
Mundell said sixth-grade students may not be emotionally prepared for the turbulent schedule, and changes in learning environments may be particularly difficult for students with special needs.
“I recognize this is an easy solution, it’s convenient,” Mundell said. “I just don’t feel it’s in the best interest of these kids.”
In the midst of the changes, Jr./Sr. High School Principal Pat McGee and Assistant Principal Scott Bradley said sixth-grade supervision and administrative responsibilities will remain the same. Sixth-graders will be accompanied by teacher aides throughout each transition period, and students and teachers will still follow the elementary schedule.
In reference to the temporary, separate sixth-grade wing at the high school, McGee said, “What’s nice about that is it does keep them out of the way, they’re not caught up in the middle of the junior high area. They’re away from most of the high school activities.”
Mundell said parents seek more communication and transparency from the school board, administration and families.
School administrators intend to discuss the project with parents, answer questions and receive feedback before the next Board of Education meeting on Thursday, June 20.