Missing the Bus: Transit Issues Vex Charter School 

The growing pains for Richmond’s first charter school continue. The latest is a three-way beef involving the Richmond School Board, the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts and the mother of a Patrick Henry child about the murky guidelines that govern transportation of special-needs pupils.

Karen Guadalupe says she was informed before the school year began that her daughter wouldn’t be allowed to ride the bus. Her daughter, a kindergarten pupil, is mentally disabled.

Guadalupe says the William Byrd Community House, which is contracted by Patrick Henry to provide transportation for an estimated 30 children, won’t allow her daughter to ride the bus without personal supervision.

That her daughter hasn’t missed any school yet is because of the support of friends, family and, at times, members of Patrick Henry’s board of directors — some of whom have transported her daughter to school personally, Guadalupe says. A captain in the Virginia National Guard, Guadalupe leaves for work before school starts and depends on the bus to get her daughter to school.

“Each week it’s a struggle to figure out how my daughter is going to get to school each day,” Guadalupe says.

Most of the 193 pupils enrolled at Patrick Henry get to and from school by way of friends and family. Current numbers are unavailable, but during the last school year special needs children made up 11 percent of the school’s population. Unlike Guadalupe’s daughter, many of those travel to school on public school buses. Patrick Henry’s charter states that the city school system is responsible for transporting pupils who need specialized transportation.

But the Richmond schools don’t identify Guadalupe’s daughter as needing specialized transportation. “What I don’t understand is how a third party can dictate who can and who cannot ride this bus,” Guadalupe says.

Patrick Henry spokeswoman Kristen Larson says she can’t discuss the specifics of the case, citing disclosure laws, but says the school has been working with Guadalupe “to meet the needs of everyone involved.”

Guadalupe’s predicament isn’t unique. In August, members of the Richmond School Board asked the Patrick Henry board of directors to submit a transportation plan by mid-October. The request follows reports that the school is unable to accommodate all of the pupils who need bus service.

The charter doesn’t require that the school provide children with free transportation. At issue is whether Patrick Henry is in compliance with a charter requirement that it reach out to other areas of the city to ensure a diverse population, including pupils with disabilities. If the school is found in violation, the School Board could request that its charter be revoked.

“As it stands, we feel like we are in compliance with our agreed-upon charter,” Larson says.

For now, Patrick Henry has agreed to hire a monitor who could sit with Guadalupe’s daughter on the bus. But because of the vetting process for new school employees, someone hasn’t been hired. “We’re still waiting to hear,” Guadalupe says.

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