Many San Jose students will be left behind this upcoming school year as officials cut critical bus services.
The San Jose Unified School District, the largest district in the city, decided to cut bus service to more than a dozen elementary campuses as well as Willow Glen Middle School and Willow Glen High School to accommodate a new state law on school start times, officials said.
San José Spotlight estimated 17 elementary schools will lose bus services under this change. The schools previously offered bus services but are excluded from this year’s list. There are 41 total schools in the district.
Education leaders plan to give students—including those in elementary schools—VTA public transit passes to get to class.
The district finalized the changes last week, Transportation Manager Corrin Reynolds told San José Spotlight. With classes set to start again on Aug. 18, families have less than two weeks to figure out how to get their kids to school.
“It’s been a challenging task,” Reynolds said. “We had to scrap everything we had and started from scratch.”
Parents or guardians of young students will get VTA passes to accompany their children on public transportation, and students in special education will not be impacted, district officials said.
SJUSD is gearing up to welcome approximately 30,000 students back to school, but it’s unclear how many will be affected by the changes to bus service.
“We don’t quite know yet,” Reynolds said. “But it will affect some.”
In June, the San Jose Unified Board of Education approved a $950,000 contract with bus service company First Student. It’s unclear how much the district will spend on VTA passes, as applications for services are still coming in. But officials said SJUSD is in “good financial health” with students learning from home last year.
In addition to juggling a mask mandate and other safety measures, SJUSD plans to adjust bell schedules across all campuses this school year—a change mandated by state law that pushes back the start time at middle and high schools to 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., respectively. District schools previously started earlier than the state mandate.
“We are no longer able to use (our old system),” Deputy Superintendent Stephen McMahon told the school board in May. “Right now we can tell schools, ‘I need you to start at 7:40, and I need you to start at 7:20,’ so the bus can get to both places in one morning. We won’t be able to do that next year.”
Prior to the pandemic, the district bussed about 2,000 students to school each year, the majority being middle and high schoolers, Reynolds said.
In developing a new bus system, the district is prioritizing students in special education whose transportation must be made available to them under federal law, Reynolds added. Most bus routes to middle and high schools are also kept intact, but the district chose to cut routes with low ridership, such as Willow Glen High School, to accommodate the new bell schedule. The district had one or two students using bus services to Willow Glen High prior to the pandemic, Reynolds said.
“You’d have some buses with only three to five students,” Reynolds said.
Parents and families learned about the changes to bus service on July 26 from a district email asking for applications for transportation services.
The email, obtained by San José Spotlight, lists only 11 schools with bus service, which raised alarm for some parents at Hacienda Environmental Science Magnet School that was left off the list.
“We were very worried,” said Chris Myers, whose daughter attends the school downtown. “We were looking into moving so we could be close to the school.”
The district told Myers the email list was incorrect. Still, many elementary schools are left off the list of bus service.
“If it is elementary students in low-income areas, it will be a concern,” Crystal Calhoun, a grandmother to three students in the district told San José Spotlight.
Calhoun is part of a coalition of parents, students and residents who fought to boot police officers off SJUSD campuses. She said she and many members of the group didn’t know about the bus changes until San José Spotlight told them.
Not all SJUSD schools had bus service at their campuses before the service change. The district started cutting bus routes and providing VTA passes to students at schools with low ridership, such as San Jose High School, more than a decade ago, Reynolds said. The district also gave out roughly 50 passes to students and families when some kids came back to classes at the end of last school year, according to Director of Student Operational Services Jill Case.
The district has received more than 600 applications for bus services as of this week and is anticipating a few hundred more as the school year approaches, Reynolds said.
“We’re trying our best to accommodate and serve our students,” he said.
The following schools provided bus service last year but are now excluded from the list of current services:
- Anne Darling Elementary
- Booksin Elementary
- Canoas Elementary
- Empire Gardens Elementary
- Grant Elementary
- Horace Mann Elementary
- Los Alamitos Elementary
- Lowell Elementary
- Merritt Trace Elementary
- Rachel Carson Elementary
- Reed Elementary
- Selma Olinder Elementary
- Simonds Elementary
- Terrell Elementary
- Washington Elementary
- Williams Elementary
- Willow Glen Elementary
- Willow Glen Middle
- Willow Glen High