BROOKSVILLE - Concerned parents, grandparents and teachers called on the Hernando school board this week to reverse a decision to cancel bus service for students who live within 2 miles of a school.
Those who spoke at a Tuesday school board meeting said the district is putting children in harms way and causing headaches for those who have to drop them off and pick them up.
The school board stopped the service for students who live near schools this year after the state stopped funding transportation for so-called courtesy busing.
In Hernando, the decision impacts about 4,500 students, about 3,000 of whom are in elementary school.
Without buses, some students have to walk or bike down busy streets, at times during thunderstorms or other weather events, parents said.
Parents who must drive their students to and from school face long waits in lines or tickets if they park in residential areas within 500 feet of schools. Some said they have to take time off work to provide transportation.
"Would you put your children in the position you're asking us to do?" parent Nikki Highley asked the board. "Why are we being given tickets when we're forced to wait in line for our children to get out of school? . I really ask you to please look in your hearts: What if it was your child or children? Wouldn't you fight for the buses?"
Superintendent Lori Romano said the school board will revisit the issue during a December workshop.
But that offered minimal reassurance to those effected.
Although traffic volume is the determining safety factor specified in the Florida law allowing exceptions to the 2-mile busing rule, parents have expressed other safety concerns, especially in more concentrated areas like Spring Hill and some parts of Brooksville.
There are a combined 486 registered sex offenders living within a 2 mile radius of Hernando County's elementary and middle schools, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Moton Elementary has the highest concentration of sex offenders within 2 miles of the school at 79, Deltona Elementary has 73, Explorer K8 has 48, Brooksville Elementary has 46, Westside Elementary has 37, Fox Chapel Middle has 32 and Chocachatti, Spring Hill Elementary and Challenger K8 have 28 each.
J.D. Floyd has 23 registered offenders within 2 miles from the school.
The reduction of 19 routes from 158 to 139 resulted in an estimated savings of $54,000 per route, or more than $1 million per year for the district, Romano said.
Parents said the board's decision to eliminate busing for students within 2 miles of their zoned schools, while providing busing for magnet school students at a comparable expense, represents a disparity and favoritism, particularly since students at magnet schools are there by choice.
"I keep hearing the term, 'courtesy busing,'" said Jennifer Pontrelli, who has children that attend both J.D. Floyd and Challenger K8. "Busing is not a courtesy, but a necessity. What is a courtesy is busing children from one end of the county to the other two times per day. To me, this is courtesy busing."
"If cuts need to be made, and money needs to be saved, cut the magnet buses back," Pontrelli said. "But don't hurt your neighborhood schools, or as we call them your 'zoned schools.' If you can't afford busing, so be it. Remove the busing and have all children attend neighborhood schools."
Tax payers could also be on the hook for pedestrian and traffic safety improvements to roads now that more students are walking to school, parents said.
They vowed to continue the fight until the issue is resolved.
"We will come back to the next meeting, and the next meeting," Highley said. "If that is what it is going to take."