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Oklahoma City school transportation plan adds some students, omits others

Oklahoma City Public Schools developed a new transportation system to shuttle students across the district to attend new high school academies this year. But that shuttle hasn't been open to students who attend alternative or magnet schools.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: April 15, 2013

Howard Robinson pulled on his white-collar shirt and opened the storm door into the darkness. He shivered at the sight of freezing rain.

When his mom dropped him off at a closed gas station, he and another Emerson Alternative High School student took shelter under the eave for half an hour. They leaned against the cold brick wall and looked west, waiting for the city bus.

The two splashed through puddles as they ran across the street. They sat in the back a little before 7 a.m. as the bus lumbered down NE 10 Street. School was still 45 minutes away.

Thousands of Oklahoma City students ride the school bus every day, and a new system gives rides to students who want to attend special academies. But some students who are trying simply to graduate still don't get a free ride.

Robinson walked a few blocks from the downtown bus station to his high school. Most of the rain had vanished, but a cold north wind blew into his face.

The high school senior can see the finish line: “I just want to graduate from Emerson.”

Transportation adds academy routes

School buses carry about 13,000 Oklahoma City students a day out of a districtwide enrollment of about 43,000, according to district statistics.

About 6,700 students are in-district transfers — students who live in the Oklahoma City Public Schools district but attend a school outside their specific boundaries.

Transportation has changed a bit for Oklahoma City Public Schools with the advent of high school academies, which allow students to take specialized coursework for career paths such as finance and engineering.

The district started using a “hub and spoke” system to shuffle students to academy schools, Transportation Director Scott Lane said.

Normally, transfer students don't receive any transportation, but exceptions are made for some magnet students and some charter schools. An exception also was made for academy students.

Academy buses pick up students from their home high schools beginning about 6 a.m. Students then ride to Northeast Academy, where they jump on buses that take them to their academy schools. It can be a long ride — more than an hour.

This year, about 20 students use the academy buses, but Lane said buses won't be as empty when more students attend academy schools in future years.

“We'd like to get a lot more,” Lane said. “Next year as we open more academies, we hope to branch out.”

So far, the academy buses haven't been open to other transfer students, including Emerson students.

Lane said he doesn't know why some Emerson students can ride the bus but not others.

Oklahoma City Superintendent Karl Springer said in a statement that the issue needs to be looked at.

“We will take a closer look at the current plan for transporting transfer students and then gauge our district resources and the needs of the students to help make the best decision possible,” he said.

2 programs, 2 plans

Principal Sherry Kishore said she thinks some Emerson students aren't allowed on buses because it's the status quo.

Emerson has two programs at her high school. OutReach is for pregnant teens and young mothers. Metro is for students who are academically behind or who struggle in a traditional classroom.

Pregnant girls and young mothers in the OutReach program can go to designated pickup points and ride one of a few district routes. Some bring their children with them to Emerson, which has two on-site day cares.

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