MERCED — Merced Union High School District trustees have received a five-page letter from California Rural Legal Assistance demanding they immediately reinstate school busing or collaborate with parents to find alternate transportation solutions.
The district's attorneys are preparing a response to legal issues cited in the CRLA letter, said Leonard Kahn, chief financial officer.
The CRLA letter comes on the heels of a presentation by about two dozen parents to trustees at their Nov. 14 board meeting and a spring decision to cut busing for students living within five miles of their campuses.
Fifteen bus drivers were furloughed as a result of that decision.
Ashley Werner, Fresno-based staff attorney for CRLA, said Wednesday that her group is expecting further discussion with the district in the coming weeks.
"We believe there is a strong probability we can reach an amicable agreement with the district," Werner said. "Hopefully a compromise can be worked out."
Board President Kurt Kollmann said he had not seen the CRLA letter. He said new trustees seated Dec. 12 likely will examine the issue.
Kollmann, an appointed incumbent, was defeated for re-election by William G. Snyder III in the Nov. 6 election. Snyder had withdrawn from the race, but his name could not be removed from the ballot. County elections officials consider Snyder elected and he said he has decided to accept the position.
Middle school teacher and teacher's union President Dora Crane defeated incumbent Trustee Mike Carpenter on Nov. 6 and will be seated at the December meeting. They join trustees Ida Johnson, Dave Honey and Sam Spangler on the board.
Kollmann said Kahn and Superintendent Scott Scambray informed them that they had tried unsuccessfully many times to meet with community residents about transportation cutbacks.
Kollmann said pupil transportation has not been mandated by the state and has never been fully funded. His last meeting will be early next week when trustees evaluate Scambray's job performance.
"It (cutbacks) wasn't an easy decision," Kollmann said. "What other option did we have?"
Kahn said there have been school bus cutbacks all over the state.
Scambray could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In her letter to the board, Werner asked for a district response within a week, so CRLA could recommend alternative remedies to their clients, including litigation, if the matter is not resolved.
Werner said the board's decision to eliminate school transportation services to students living within a five-mile radius of campus appears to have resulted in a disparate impact on low- income people of color and non-English-speaking students and their families.
The decision risks violating state and federal civil rights laws, including the equal protection clause of California and U.S. constitutions, Werner wrote.
Some families cannot afford the $22.50 monthly charge for students to ride county transit buses. Students who walk to school or to the bus stop face serious dangers along the way and may spend at least three hours daily, if not more, traveling to and from school, Werner said.
Students taking the afternoon bus or forced to walk long distances are prevented from participating in extracurricular activities after school. They also must walk on dangerous roads in darkness, exposed to fog, bad weather, speeding motorists, big trucks, roaming dogs, crime and gang violence, Werner said.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.