Accidental Activism — Fighting the Arlington Public School Bus System

I am  “week before vacation” crazy busy;  and yet, I’ve found myself thrust into the center of a community battle.  I went to a neighborhood “call to action” meeting on Saturday, and darn it, I never can walk away without taking on assignments.

I live in Arlington, VA, and pay a ton in property taxes in large part so I can send my kids to truly fabulous schools.  I also bought a house on a bus route; in a neighborhood separated from the local school by some pretty significant commuter roads.  About a week ago a bomb was dropped on the entire neighborhood that after having busing for decades, we now lived inside the “official walk zone.”  Um, what?!

Following the APS advice to check their “official walk map” on the website, I find my map shows me OUT of the zone.  It took them a week to realize their mistake.  But instead of saying “we screwed up”, they try to argue that those maps were never the official walk zones.  Seriously?  They say “walk zone” right on the darn thing.

Getting Activist
I started the Facebook page called “Arlington Parents for Safe School Transportation”.   From a dozen of us down the street to over 260 people from all over Arlington, this little page is driving media coverage, organizing a public information assault on the school system and giving a lot of people a place to complain in good company.

Our group also started a petition calling for a moratorium on implementation of the new plan, and its getting a lot of traction, with over 400 signatures in 3 days.

Dr. Murphy, are you listening?
Numerous inquiries, letters, appeals have been sent in with no reply.  Dr. Murphy, our Superintendent wants us to follow their cockamamie 3-week appeals process; um, school starts in less than 2 weeks.  I want to know:  Dr. Murphy, why did your staff say nary a word, for more than a year, about a plan that tosses kids off of buses?  Oh, but I have more:

  • How can you NOT know how many people have been kicked off the bus?
  • Why do you insist on justifying this scheme by claiming that loads of kids were jumping the bus against the rules, when you know that was a tiny issue that could have been addressed otherwise?
  • Dr. Murphy, have YOU read the actual report that was commissioned on “modernizing” our bus system?  Did you see that the consultants write that the problem was not a lack of seats, but a poor utilization of the buses already in use?
  • Are you the type of leader that accepts shutting the public out of major policy changes?

But then there the actual bus changes are so wacky that even more questions come to mind:

  • So you say that routes are more efficient, and yet we have kids who are now getting on the bus MUCH earlier than before?
  • You keep claiming that only 5 schools have been impacted, and this is so not the case.  More than 15 schools have been impacted, just check out our Facebook page and you can see who is claiming they’ve been booted.
  • And this expensive software program that you are using to “route” our kids, did you realize that many kids have been routed through major intersections?
  • And more about that software; how come some people who never had busing before because they already lived so close to schools are now getting bus vouchers?

Might I add that when your “test” implementation goes terribly poorly, typically, whatever is tested is not put into service until all the bugs have been fixed.  Ask any technology person and they’ll tell you never deploy a system full of bugs.  And yet, that is exactly what is happening.

Wake Up!
APS is in ignore and defy mode.  But ignoring the public isn’t good.  Dr. Murphy, esteemed members of the school board, in case you haven’t noticed, people are pissed off.  People feel betrayed and lied to.  People all over Arlington think you let us down, and we don’t think you are trying to take any responsibility for the poor manner in which all of this bus stuff has been handled.

So, despite being busy, I happily and without reservation continue to work with my fellow Arlingtonians to stop you from forging ahead on this stupid transportation scheme.  I will see you at the next school board meeting, and you can count on hearing from me after that.  You may have your hands over your ears and eyes, but discontent is GROWING, Dr. Murphy; people are not accepting this change, and people will not stop demanding answers.

I look forward to a day when you realize that it is in your interest, in our district’s interest, in our entire community’s interest to hold public forums to discuss this issue.  I promise I will come, I promise many many parents from one end of this county to the other will be there to discuss.

Read the press



Lend your voice
Email the APS School Board:  school.board@apsva.us
Email Dr. Murphy: superintendent@apsva.us

8 thoughts on “Accidental Activism — Fighting the Arlington Public School Bus System”

  1. You are so right! These are exactly the circumstances that my neighborhood has experienced. My neighborhood has been eligible for bus service to Williamsburg MS for at least the past 10 years, and we were shocked to find out that we are no longer eligible for bus service. And for what it is worth, even under the ridiculous new walk zone measurements, we are still more than 1.5 miles from school. I invite Dr. Murphy and every school board member to walk the 1.7 miles in my daughter’s shoes. It is unconscionable that they would risk my daughter’s safety and welfare by suggesting that she should walk this distance on major commuter roads to get to school.

    Thank you so much for your very thoughtful blog and your activist efforts. I have already signed your petition.

  2. You have captured the issues beautifully here. If you haven’t already, do send a link to it directly to Dr. Murphy. He needs to read every last word of it, as do all of the school board members. Not one of them has issued an apology for their lack of transparency on this issue and, indeed, their intentional duplicity, including trying to pretend like those walk maps didn’t really mean anything (reminiscent of “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”) The amount of disinformation and evasion on this reminds me of the former Soviet Union…Breshnev really isn’t dead — Anyway, thanks for your steadfastness and excellent reporting on this issue!

  3. I thank you too for all of your efforts this past week on our behalf. The entire experience has been infuriating, draining, and really destructive. A poisonous way to begin a new school year. I second Mary’s request that you forward a link directly to Dr. Murphy and the School Board. I don’t think this is the moment to be anything less than brutally candid with him. For my money, he’s proven himself to be unsuitable for his current position. I say this with regret and a heavy heart but I for one would like to see him out asap and am frustrated over our inability to say adieu to the School Board via the ballot box. I have written him myself this afternoon, along with his Board. I managed to keep it respectful and concise, I think, but saw little point in making nice. He strikes me as a politician through and through — and no point in beating around the bush with politicos. It’s all suave patter and stalling. Note how he disregards the uproar in his latest missive by going on and on, clueless and manipulative both, about bumpy start, we’ll all learn together, things will work out. By late September, we’ll be on the right track … Really? Anyway, thanks — I only wish I could send this gang the bills for the following — the cab rides that will ensue for my son (otherwise, an hour away on foot from his high school, one-way) and the psychiatric care for his infuriated mother. I’d set aside some cash to offer my Senior some math tutoring over the course of the next 9 months — it’ll now be going to Red Top. (In my mind, I send you flowers — You’ve done a great public service.)

  4. How do we continue to organize and hold the county accountable for such a poor implementation, poor system set up, and overall ignorance to how transportation impacts our children’s education? Do we show up at a board meeting? Stage protests? I have had no luck speaking to anyone of importance at the transportation department as Stouks never has any time to answer messages despite numerous attempts to speak to him.

    I would like for this to be more than just a rant, I want to take action. I know there is facebook and a petition, but its time we get in front of them to address this. Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated.

    1. Thanks for reading and your comments. I urge you to attend Thursday night’s board meeting — 7:30pm at the Ed Center. You don’t need to speak (but you can) and being there helps us make our voice louder. I plan to write again later this week, and hope that our community wide efforts will go to a higher level. Are you active on the FB page? It is helping feed the media outreach, and it gives school administration more information. Don’t give up, let’s get louder!

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