With less than a week before the new school year, parents of Montezuma-Cortez students are scrambling to find transportation for their children. Because of social distancing guidelines and reduced state funding, the district will no longer bus students directly to and from their homes.
Instead, students will have assigned bus stops. And rural students likely will be affected most.
Shannon Dawn Jennings is struggling to find a safe way home for her son, who is in fifth grade. His bus stop is 2.5 miles from home, along a county road with no sidewalks or shoulders and where drivers often exceed the 40 mph speed limit.
“I’ll just end up driving him to school,” she said, since the stop is only a half-mile from his school.
But her son’s return home is a different story. Jennings doesn’t get home from work until about 6 p.m., and her son will be dropped off at 3:10 p.m., 2.5 miles from home.
“He absolutely can’t walk home,” she said, because it is not safe.
For Jennings, it comes down to poor communication and planning. The bus garage at Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 attributed the limited number of bus stops to COVID-19 restrictions, she said. The transportation department wants to prevent children from being on the bus together for long periods of time. The transportation department did not reply Thursday to The Journal’s requests for comment and additional details.
Her husband’s grandmother lives next door, but she is 96 years old and relies more so on Jennings’s son than the fifth grader does on her.
Layne Frazier also is concerned for about his children’s safety. Originally, the school district wanted to pick up and drop off his 6-year-old and 9-year-old on County Road N east of U.S. Highway 491. But the family lives on the west side, about a third of a mile from the highway.
Frazier’s wife called the district, which moved the stop to the west side of the highway.
“But my kids still have to walk on a county road with no sidewalks,” Frazier said.
The speed limit on the county road is 45 mph, but Frazier said drivers often go 55 or even 70 mph.
“And there’s a hill with a blind spot,” he said.
Both Frazier and his wife work full-time jobs, and his is in Shiprock. Frazier’s mother works at Mesa Elementary School in Cortez, but his children likely would be dropped off at the bus stop before she could arrive to pick them up.
Frazier also is concerned about bears and mountain lions, which roam the area in the darkness of early morning, and the possibility that the children could be kidnapped.
“Kids’ safety is No. 1,” Frazier said. “This is just not thinking about that.”
And figuring out how their children would get home is “hard on parents,” he said, “especially single parents.”
The school district sent a letter to parents Wednesday informing them of new bus routes after a number of parents called and emailed Re-1 administrators.
“The district is adjusting our bus routes this year to consolidate some bus stops from outlying county roads to more major roads,” Superintendent Lori Haukeness said in an email statement.
Per-student budget cuts from the Colorado Department of Education forced by the impact of COVID-19, required the school district to consolidate routes, Haukeness said.
The district also plans more frequent and enhanced cleaning of buses between routes, which “required us to shorten the time involved in each route in order to allow time for this extra cleaning,” Haukeness said.
“We recognize that this is a change that may be a bit challenging for some parents, and we appreciate everyone’s understanding given our COVID-related challenges,” Haukeness said. “Parents are welcome to contact my office with questions or concerns.”