By ERIN ROLL
Although Montclair High School senior Jake Keller lives within walking distance of Montclair High School, he often sees his classmates from the South End struggle to get to school on time. The lack of busing from the area has led to accumulated absences and missed class time for some of his classmates, he said.
Keller is one of a group of students pushing for expanded bus service throughout Montclair.
Under New Jersey state law, only high school students who live more than 2.5 miles from the school they attend are eligible for district-provided transportation. Because of Montclair’s geography, much of the south end falls within the two-mile distance of Montclair High School. A small section of Montclair’s northern end, close to the town line with Clifton, falls outside the 2.5 mile marker, which makes it eligible for free busing.
Students and parents contend the south end needs an expanded bus service since many students do not have other transportation options to get to school.
The group is expected to be at the next school board meeting with an appeal to expand free busing to Montclair’s south end.
It was in 2018 when the Young Democratic Socialists Club first began its push to expand the district bus service. With a new school year underway and a new administration in place, the students are trying to renew their efforts to get service to the South End.
“We are planning and are working with other clubs and groups and should be pushing for it soon. Since there is a new superintendent, we have to sort of start over, but we will continue to push and fight for it,” Keller said.
The group is considering sponsoring a walk from the south end to Montclair High School, to illustrate to school administrators how far students from the south end have to walk to get to and from the school.
During Kendra Johnson’s tenure as superintendent, the district looked into whether courtesy busing could be provided for both Montclair’s north and south ends that are close to the 2.5 mile mark, but nothing came of the suggestion.
Board of Education President Eve Robinson said the district is open to discussing bus service and also how to provide alternatives.
A flyer is being circulated among families in Montclair’s South End, urging them to come to the Nov. 18 BOE meeting and appeal for the expansion of the service.
“The current rule is 2.5 miles walking. It is our belief that our children are being denied based on a system that is being controlled by the Board of Education. The school cannot determine what route our children can walk safely,” the flyer states.
NJ Transit offers student tickets at 33 percent off the full adult fare. Students from the South End can hop the #34 NJ Transit bus from Orange Road, with a one-way fare of $1.07 to $1.50, depending on the distance traveled. Students need to buy their tickets before boarding the bus, or get them from their schools before traveling. Schools are also required to issue a NJ Transit student identification card to students.
Recently however, some students have reported difficulties in acquiring their tickets through the high school’s main office. School officials did not respond to Montclair Local’s inquiries of students having problems securing the discounted bus tickets. However, late Wednesday afternoon, MHS families received an email from Principal Anthony Grosso announcing that the tickets were again available through the student services office on the third floor.
In 2018, students successfully lobbied the township and NJ Transit to establish a new bus stop at Park Street and Chestnut Street outside the high school on weekdays. The 34 bus stops at the school at 6:51 a.m., 7:24 a.m., 7:38 a.m., 7:46 a.m. and 7:52 a.m. Buses depart Park Street and Chestnut Street at 1:29 p.m., 2:45 p.m., 2:47 p.m., 2:51 p.m. and 3:49 p.m.
However, students said that the NJ Transit bus schedule is not an adequate solution for the need for bus service for students from the South End. In 2018, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renee Baskerville told Montclair Local that she hoped the new NJ Transit stop would be a temporary measure, until the school district could come up with a better solution.