Parents pressure Atlanta to change school bus times

First days of school in metro Atlanta

Monday — Cherokee, Henry and Rockdale counties

Wednesday — Atlanta city, Buford city, Cobb, Douglas and Gwinnett counties

Aug. 8 — Marietta city

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

Decatur city, Paulding County started Wednesday

After hearing parents’ complaints about pickup times as early as 5:45 a.m., Atlanta’s public school system is changing its bus schedules for elementary school students.

The new routes will allow kids to be picked up later — around 6:40 a.m. on average — and arrive at school at 7:20 a.m. The previous bus schedule upset parents because it called for children to be dropped off at school at 7:10 a.m., nearly an hour before classes begin at 8 a.m.

“Engaged parents helped raise our awareness,” said Associate Superintendent Steve Smith. “We’re very sensitive and always want to have input from our students, staff and parents.”

Students will still arrive at school 10 minutes earlier than last year, when school buses unloaded at 7:30 a.m., so they’ll have more time to eat breakfast before the school day begins, Smith said. About 75 percent of students in Atlanta Public Schools qualify to receive free or reduced-price meals.

“The research is clear from an educational standpoint how important breakfast is for them to be alert and at their maximum for learning daily,” he said.

The revised bus schedules should be posted on the Atlanta Public Schools website (‎ on Sunday, Smith said.

The school system wanted earlier bus schedules but never intended for students to be forced to leave home before 6 a.m., Smith said.

The earliest pick-up times were for a small group of homeless students, and when that schedule was mistakenly published online, parents thought it applied to all students. The federal McKinney-Vento Act and agreements between Atlanta-area school districts allow displaced students to be bused from outlying areas to their previous schools, which requires early-morning bus routes.

Besides giving students more time for breakfast, slightly earlier drop-off times will prevent students from being late to class when their school buses run behind schedule, said Atlanta Board of Education Chairman Reuben McDaniel.

In the new school year, which starts for Atlanta students on Wednesday, the same buses will be used for up to three schools each morning at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

“We had some concern about the first buses getting to the elementary schools late, and when that happens, there’s a ripple effect to middle and high schools,” McDaniel said.

Dry runs showed that buses could drop off students as late as 7:20 a.m. without throwing off the schedules, Smith said.

Some parents said they were worried about their children having too much down time at school before classes begin.

“I’m not sure what they expect 5, 6 and 7 year olds to be doing that entire time,” said Keri Conley, whose daughter is entering kindergarten at E. Rivers Elementary in north Atlanta. “What supervision will be in place? Will they be in classrooms or the cafeteria? Will they be mixed in with fifth graders doing who knows what?”

Another parent, Sherry Bellille, said she preferred the earlier schedule because it will help her fourth-grader get to school on time.

“I don’t know what the big headache is. If you’re working, it’s convenient. You can get up when the kids get up,” said Bellille, whose son attends Bethune Elementary downtown.

About 22,000 of Atlanta Public Schools’ nearly 50,000 students take the bus to school each day.

Bus schedules will again be updated in about two weeks, once the school district evaluates how many students are using each bus stop.