On Oct. 24, a parent of a Carmel Middle School student called California Highway Patrol to complain about her child’s school bus, reporting kids were forced to sit on the floor due to overcrowding. The next morning, a CHP officer pulled over the school-bound bus on Carmel Valley Road, but found nothing to support the parent’s complaint. No citation was issued.
But a follow-up investigation by Carmel Unified School District officials revealed a different kind of problem on the bus route: bullying. The bus served middle-schoolers as well as high-schoolers between ages 11 and 18. What CUSD officials found was like a scene from Forrest Gump’s first day of school, with a few older kids obstructing younger kids from sitting next to them, either placing their backpacks or feet in the aisle, or simply denying younger students a seat.
“We now understand it’s not an overcrowding issue but a student behavior issue,” CUSD Chief Technology Officer Paul Behan says.
In response, CUSD rerouted the problematic bus line into two legs. Students now ride together from Carmel Valley Village up to Tularcitos Elementary School, where middle schoolers and high schoolers then transfer to their respective buses.
Other local school districts already split routes by age. Tom Thorpe, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District’s director of transportation, says the district’s 1,500 daily riders are grouped by grade level: elementary schoolers, middle schoolers and high schoolers ride separately. Only accommodations for special-needs students occasionally call for mixed-grade buses.
Salinas Union High School District is expanding its bus services from the 3,000 students it currently serves, because of an increase in student enrollment this academic year and a new school slated to open in 2018.