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Controversial calculation: Parents in SE Bend neighborhood seek school bus stop; distance in dispute

(Update: Adding video, comments by parents, school district statement)

If homes are less than 1.5 miles away from school property, no bus stop required, under state rules

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – The first week of school has some parents renewing the call for a new bus stop in Southeast Bend, but Bend La-Pine Schools says the change would have to come from the state.

Parents in The Bridges at Shadow Glen community off SE 15th Street have made what might sound like a simple request: that Bend-La Pine Schools provide a school bus stop and ride to High Desert Middle School, which is about a mile and a half away.

The “about” is the issue.

Kari Huang said she and other parents in The Bridges community are fighting to get a school bus stop for their kids due to safety concerns. Huang's daughter just started going to High Desert Middle School this week.

"Our children are, in fact, walking 1.5 miles and greater from The Bridges to the parking lot at High Desert," Huang said.

But there’s been some controversy over how the measurement is taken, as the school’s property extends nearly a half-mile from the campus and parking lot. Some parents call it unfair, saying the school district calculates the distance in a way that assures bus service isn’t required.

In response to the issue, Bend-La Pine Schools Communications Director Scott Maben said changes are up to the state. He sent the following message to NewsChannel21:

"We understand the concerns some families have shared about the distance their students walk or bike to get to school and return home. The 1.5-mile radius from middle and high school campus boundaries is set in Oregon Department of Education rules. The state funding that our school district receives to provide student transportation is based on this rule, defined by the distance a student travels between home and the nearest point of the school’s property.”

In response to questions about the distance calculation and who is responsible for making changes that would allow for a bus stop, the Oregon Department of Education also pointed to Oregon Revised Statute ORS 327.043, saying it's a matter of state legislation.

According to the school district, Huang lives 1.1 miles away from the school, which makes her and other families in her neighborhood ineligible for bus service. Based on mobile app directions from her home to the school address at 61111 SE 27th Street, Huang lives exactly 1.5 miles away from High Desert Middle School.

Huang pointed to safety concerns she believes the district should consider, for the safety of its students walking the pathway on Ferguson Road, which includes kids having to walk through icy conditions, where they can slip and fall during winter.

"There’s no houses, there’s not any cars on that trail that can see if something were to happen -- if someone were to abduct a child or whatever," Huang said.

For kids who walk to school, they currently have to go through the construction site along Ferguson Road, where there aren't sidewalks.

"Even when it's not under construction, it is not in a neighborhood, this is a cut-through. People are driving fast," Huang said.

The Bend La- Pine Schools representative said sidewalks should be available to students by the end of the week.

Other parents and community members who chose to remain anonymous reached out to NewsChannel21, saying the mileage calculation the district is using to determine whether to offer a bus stop is arbitrary. They said they're disappointed in the lack of response from the school board members and Superintendent Steven Cook about the matter.

“They have made the boundary start a half a mile before the school, saying that children have arrived at their final destination," Huang emphasized in frustration. "They have not arrived at their final destination. School buses do not let kids out at this corner. Faculty and staff do not park their cars here.”

One Bend resident choosing to remain anonymous said students are still expected to walk or bike in inclement weather, even though the school district might let out classes early. The resident also pointed out there's no relief for the students on the pathway on smoky days, when air can be hazardous, and that the pathway is poorly maintained and not well-lit.

The school district does offer an option for providing transportation to families inside the non-transport zone through its Courtesy Rider Request Form. However, availability is limited. It also shared that it works closely with Commute Options to help students and families find safe walking/rolling paths to school and provides alternative routes that students who attend High Desert can use.

Article Topic Follows: Bend

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Bola Gbadebo

Bola Gbadebo is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Bola here.


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