ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. – A busing boundary policy in St. Charles is forcing families to change how students get to class, but who’s being allowed a school bus ride and who isn’t has some parents upset.
There’s always a mad dash in the Waltz household to get out the door.
“We either hear or see the bus every morning,” Josh Waltz said.
His 11-year-old daughter attends Francis Howell Middle School, but even as bus 127 stops in front of their house, she’s not allowed on.
“The bus does stop in front of our house, but she’s not allowed to ride it,” Waltz said. “We’ve been told my house is too close to the school.”
The changes were made as part of a district policy approved by the school board to mitigate the critical shortage of bus drivers, reduce costs and improve efficiency, according to the district’s website.
“Because we are not operating at the target transportation efficiency rating, the District receives less state funding,” according to the school’s website.
Students who live within a mile of their school are not allowed to ride the school bus; however, Waltz has measured every foot from his front door to the school’s front door. It’s 5,311 feet—31 feet outside the district’s one-mile boundary rule.
“We were told by the school, though, that our house still doesn’t count because they only measure to the bottom of the driveway. But this is apparently a great place for the bus to stop,” Waltz said.
Chris Bahl lives in the same St. Charles County neighborhood, off O’Fallon Road.
Bahl said his 12-year-old son is autistic, has an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) and has been denied transportation despite requesting a school bus for his disability.
“Concerns for his safety, focus, walking to school and the challenges of the social part of that,” Bahl said.
Bahl said the school denied including transportation in the IEP because it was not required the year before.
According to the district’s website, exceptions can be made.
“Students who live within this one-mile boundary will not be eligible for bus transportation unless required by Individualized Education Plan or road safety concerns as identified by the FHSD Transportation Department.”
Francis Howell School District Chief Communications Officer Jennifer Jolls said most area districts and middle and high school students who live within a mile of school do not qualify for bus transportation.
“In just the first three weeks of school, the District has received nearly 500 requests for exceptions to the one-mile walk rule or bus stop location,” Jolls said. “We do not have the bus drivers necessary to accommodate these requests and out of fairness to all, we must adhere to the criteria established.”
Waltz said he’s complained for weeks about the boundary rules.
“The transportation department has been completely unresponsive and unwilling for conversation or any kind of reason,” he said.
Waltz said half a dozen families just in his neighborhood should be eligible for transportation, but it’s being denied, even though a school bus enters their subdivision to pick up some students.
In a Sept. 7 email obtained by the FOX Files, the district’s transportation director wrote Waltz, who had been complaining about hearing a school bus near his home.
The middle school and high school buses no longer enter your neighborhood. Instead, the new bus stop for all secondary students who qualify for transportation is at O’Fallon Road @ Creek Pass Dr. I am not sure what could be causing the noise issues, but it isn’t a school bus.
It definitely is.
Hours after the FOX Files reached out to the district, the transportation director wrote Waltz again.
I am very sorry. The driver was given the information stating that she was to stop at O’Fallon Road @ Creek Pass, but she was confused and continued entering the neighborhood. We didn’t realize that she was still doing this so I am terribly sorry.
We spoke to her today and confirmed that she understands the change. The bus will not be entering the neighborhood in the future. Please email me if this happens again and I will address the problem immediately. Again, I cannot apologize enough for this confusion within my team.
The bus now stops on O’Fallon Road, about two blocks from the Waltz’s household and the original bus stop location.
While it may pick up some kids from the neighborhood, others are told to find their own way.
Jolls said it’s just not possible to pick up additional students.
“For efficiency reasons, we operate our buses at capacity where possible. This means we cannot add students who do not qualify for bus transportation to an existing route, even if the bus stops in the same neighborhood. There simply isn’t space to do so,” Jolls said.
“I’m very concerned about my 11-year-old daughter being out there by herself,” Waltz said.
Waltz is concerned about registered sex offenders and dangerous traffic. Watch part two of this Fox Files investigation on Wednesday night at 9 p.m. on FOX 2 News.