By ERIN ROLL
Montclair’s schools could be taking another look at expanding bus service to more students.
Over the past several years, the school community, including students at Montclair High School, has appealed to the district to add bus routes that include parts of town that don’t quite meet the minimum distance requirement for free busing, but are still long distances from the schools.
Superintendent Kendra Johnson said in an email Friday she was putting together a quote for courtesy busing for both the north and south ends of town, to be presented to the Montclair Board of Education. However, Johnson did not provide further details on what the courtesy busing would involve, or when the idea would officially be presented to the board.
Under New Jersey state law, a school district must provide busing for elementary school students who live 2 miles and for high school students who live 2.5 miles away from school. Beyond those distances, the state considers a student “remote from school.”
“Boards of education are permitted, at their own discretion and expense, to provide transportation for students who reside less than remote from school and may charge the student’s parents or legal guardians for this service,” the law states.
In Montclair, however, part of Upper Montclair falls within the mandatory busing zone, while the South End does not.
High school student Nancy Marie Jones told the board it was unfair to expect students to come on time but not provide transportation for students who really need it.
Not providing bus service for south end residents was an equity issue, she said, with Upper Montclair’s student population being largely white and the South End’s student population being mainly black.
“You’re expecting students to come to school on time every single day, and they live an hour and 15 minutes away from [school] when they’re walking here, and you’re not allowing them a public school bus, but you’re allowing students that live in Upper Montclair, who are by majority white, and you’re giving them a public school bus. And then you’re telling us every five lates to school is an absence, and if you go over 16 absences per school, there’s no credit recovery, you’re failing the class,” she said. “Now how does that make sense? How are you going to tell students that they’re failing a class, [because] they can’t come to school, but you’re not giving them a school bus to come to school?”
Board member Priscilla Church said her family experienced the same problem when her daughter was in high school. The family’s address was just shy of the 2.5 mile zone, but her daughter still had to travel a long distance to get to and from school.
As a possible option, Church suggested the district could look into establishing central drop-off points around town where students could go to wait for the bus in the morning.
Montclair does provide a subscription busing service. The cost is $400 for the first child in the family, $225 for the second child and $100 for the third. All subsequent children from the same household ride free of charge. With the proper documentation, students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch are eligible for subscription busing at no cost.
In March 2017, the Civics and Government Institute at Montclair High School petitioned the township and NJ Transit to add a new stop near the high school. NJ Transit agreed to add an additional weekday stop to the 34 bus route, timed to coincide with the school’s start and dismissal times.
A regular fare for NJ Transit bus travel in Montclair is $1.60 one way. The cost per student would be $16 in fares for the week, or $576 for the year.
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville told Montclair Local in March of this year that she hoped the additional NJ Transit stop would only be a stopgap measure until the district was able to expand its bus service.