Early morning arrivals planned for Atlanta school buses

First days of school in metro Atlanta

Thursday, Aug. 1 — Decatur city, Paulding County

Monday, Aug. 5 — Cherokee, Henry and Rockdale counties

Wednesday, Aug. 7 — Atlanta city, Buford city, Cobb, Douglas and Gwinnett counties

Thursday, Aug. 8 — Marietta city

Monday, Aug. 12 — Clayton, DeKalb, Fayette and Fulton counties

Many Atlanta elementary students who ride the school bus will arrive at school nearly an hour before classes begin, earlier than last year, with some students picked up as early as 5:45 a.m.

Parents opposed to that change said they don’t want their children walking in the dark to bus stops, waiting around for school to start and struggling to get through long days.

School bus schedules released Wednesday show that most students will arrive at elementary schools at 7:10 a.m., but the first bell won’t ring until 8 a.m. School began at the same time last year, but school buses dropped children off around 7:30 a.m.

Parents weren’t happy to learn of the predawn bus pickup times just a week before classes begin Aug. 7.

“Surely there is a way to make the routes more efficient and to use more buses instead of creating this incredibly long day for our little ones,” said Jenny Nix, who has children in first grade and fifth grade at E. Rivers Elementary School in Buckhead.

The Atlanta Board of Education in June opposed moving elementary schools to an earlier start time, after hearing parents’ concerns.

Instead, the board sought to have middle and high schools begin about 15 minutes later than last year — at 9:05 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. — allowing the school district to save an estimated $1 million by using the same buses for up to three schools each morning.

But under the new bus schedule, created by the Atlanta Public Schools administration, families will have get to the bus stop earlier even though elementary school starts at the same time.

“This schedule is expected to increase breakfast participation, shorten ride times for special-needs students and improve student safety,” according to a statement by Atlanta Public Schools on Wednesday. “In order to accomplish these goals without changing the bus schedules, the district would have been required to add 50 buses and drivers.”

School board chairman Reuben McDaniel, who handles public comments for the board, didn’t respond to phone calls and an email Wednesday. School board member Nancy Meister said she had received hundreds of emails about the bus schedule.

Beth Hogan, the mother of a kindergartner, said she had considered letting her son ride the bus this year but she decided that the official 8 a.m. start time was early enough. Instead, she’ll walk him to school at Burgess-Peterson Academy in east Atlanta.

“I’m wondering what in the world the schools are going to do with those students in that extra amount of time?” Hogan asked. “If it’s going to be unstructured baby-sitting, that’s an opportunity for them to be bullied.”

Other Atlanta-area school districts made only slight modifications to their bus schedules this year to make them more efficient and take students to newly opened schools. Two years ago, Clayton County Schools ended bus service within 1.5 miles of its schools, and many districts eliminated bus stops to save money.

Doug Wood, who has two fifth-graders at Toomer Elementary School in east Atlanta, said he doesn’t understand how the change will help students or save money if teachers have to come in to work early to supervise early arrivals.

“For 20 years we’ve been able to get our kids to school with the regular start time, and to all of a sudden say it’s changed while traffic has lessened over the last few years; it doesn’t make sense,” Wood said.

Erica Long, whose son is preparing for kindergarten at Perkerson Elementary School in south Atlanta, said she’s worried about children having so much idle time before the school day starts. She plans to drive her son to school this year.

“It does make you wonder what’s going to happen during that early-morning period, how many staff members you’re going to have in the building, and what kind of supervision they’ll provide,” Long said.

Parent Whitney Alexander said she’ll have a hard time getting enough sleep for her second- and third-grade children if they have to get on the bus to E. Rivers Elementary at 6:45 a.m.

“The supervision once they arrive at the school is going to be an issue,” Alexander said. “It’s just going to be wasted time.”