EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The school district walked back a plan to eliminate courtesy busing to commercial child-care centers after negative reaction from residents.
Superintendent Kimberly Gruccio told a standing-room only audience at Tuesday’s school board meeting that busing would continue to child care centers for the next year with some new requirements.
The new rules are designed to ensure students were actually attending a commercial facility and not using the address to send their student to their school of choice, Gruccio said.
“I’m going to take a step back right now, and I’m going to embrace the situation,” she said. “I need for all of you to know that this is a work in progress.”
Parents and child-care center operators from throughout the district packed the board room at the Alder Avenue Middle School to express concerns about the policy that was announced in a letter sent to parents on Thursday, April 18, just before the district let out for spring break.
The letter said only full-time students who attend residential child-care providers for both pick-up and drop-off could use the so-called “babysitter forms.”
The forms previously allowed a resident to change the pick-up or drop-off location for students who attend any before- or after-school child care.
“There will no longer be transportation change busing as a courtesy for commercial child-care centers for students in grades first through 12th,” the letter said.
The letter also stated that the district was rebranding and restructuring its own after-school program called Kids Klub to center around homework help and other enrichment.
Since receiving the letter, many parents expressed concern and confusion through emails to The Press and on social media over how the changes may affect their child. Some parents were also concerned the changes were an attempt by the district to push students into Kids Klub.
Gruccio explained the district’s reasoning behind the policy change at the meeting, stating that the district’s transportation department became inundated with transportation changes.
“Because the district began receiving so many babysitting forms, over 500 in the past year, the transportation became extremely cumbersome,” Gruccio said.
In addition, she said that the district became aware that some parents were using the address of the child-care facility, but not attending it as a way to change which school in the district their student attended. Egg Harbor Township has three elementary and two middle schools.
Parent Stephanie Pedrick, who has a child bused to a commercial center after school, said she came Tuesday to speak out against the transportation changes and appreciated Gruccio’s decision, but said the board was out of touch with working parents.
“That clearly demonstrates that you are uninformed and unprepared for the impact that would have on the families in the district,” Pedrick said. “Clearly, there is a need for care outside the school hours. The need exists because people work.”
Pedrick said the letter outlining the policy changes didn’t include information on how eliminating transportation to child-care centers made bus routes more efficient.
“Over 100 students get on board from Trinity (Learning Center on Mill Road) alone,” she said.
Rachael Kirchmann, director of English Creek Academy, came prepared to speak on Tuesday but decided against it after hearing the district’s decision. The private preschool and child-care center in the English Creek Shopping Center has about 30 students daily who are bused from the school district, and about 100 kids in total who may have been affected because of siblings in the program.
On Wednesday, Kirchmann said she was grateful for the district’s change of heart.
“Some of my kids from the after-school program literally wrote me notes to read to them because they want to stay here so bad,” she said.
Gruccio said she was happy to see so many residents out for Tuesday’s meeting, but said they would have known about the changes if they had attended meetings over the last few months when the proposed change was discussed.
New rules for the babysitter form will require the parents to provide quarterly proof of payment to the child-care facility to continue to be dropped off or picked up there.
Gruccio said there will be a meeting 7 p.m. May 22 at the Alder Avenue school for all stakeholders interested in helping to develop transportation policies for the district and invited the public.