CUMBERLAND - After the first days of school, a number of Cumberland parents say they have concerns and complaints about busing and transportation to and from school.
Michelle Jorgensen, a Cumberland high school parent who no longer receives busing due to her family living less than two miles from the high school, has decided to drive her daughter to and from school due to concerns about the safety of the walking commute.
“We live 1.9 miles away so that gives us no buses, however, the bus is literally one street down from us, but we were told by the bus company that we are not allowed to go to that bus stop,” Jorgensen said. “So we’re a working family trying to get our child to and from school every day.”
The Breeze reported last year that school officials were set to make students who were within walking distance limits (two miles at the high school level) walk to school or get a ride instead of taking a bus.
Jorgensen, whose daughter is a freshman, said there was previously a high school bus stop on her street.
Jorgensen stated that the 1.9-mile walk to school ends up taking her daughter and other children in the neighborhood who are in the same situation at least 40 minutes to get to school. She said that with the 40-minute walk to school with backpacks, sidewalks that do not get plowed in the wintertime, and the walk past a sex offender who was moved into the neighborhood, she and the other parents have many concerns for their children’s safety.
“She has to walk past a level 3 sex offender’s house every day who has been convicted more than once with young girls 10 and up,” Jorgensen said. “And this is quite a few people in my neighborhood that do not have busing anymore, and this level-three sex offender was just moved into my neighborhood.”
Jorgensen stated that even aside from the presence of the sex offender and sidewalk issues, the roads the students must walk are very dangerous.
“Beyond the two-mile walk on roads where adults have actually been killed, like on Mendon Road, there’s no crossing guard where Mendon Road and Manville Hill Road cross and people constantly take rights off Manville Hill Road and on Manville Hill Road without the lights,” Jorgensen said. “So they have to make that crossing and if they left at 6:30 a.m., they might get there on time.”
By having to leave so early in the morning to get to school on time, Jorgensen said it is still dark most days when students are heading to school.
School officials, working with the police and busing company, are looking at possible modification of some routes to address safety concerns.
Jorgensen and other parents say there have been numerous other issues with transportation to and from school since the start of the new year, including long lines of traffic.
Cumberland Supt. Philip Thornton said that with any start of the school year, busing is always something that improves over time.
“This year was no different, we had some longer runs and longer routes on the first day,” he said.
Thornton said that there have already been some improvements but there is still some work to do on different routes.
“We have been working with the Cumberland police trying to problem-solve the different traffic flow area issues,” he said. “One challenge is even with the buses we do have, more parents are driving kids to school because, I think, of the pandemic, so less ridership and more cars.”
Thornton said that they are working on solving the issue of more parents driving their children to school across the district. He said Durham School Services is also looking to potentially modify bus routing.
Thornton said that one thing school officials are again working on is trying to get students to use the footbridge crossing over Mendon Road at the high school, which would cut down on time students are walking directly across the road and stopping traffic.
“It’s really a day-to-day process that we go through and each day we talk to the bus company all throughout the day,” Thornton said. “In all, it’s really a question of problem-solving in each area, we keep working on it, even today.”
School officials have repeatedly tried to get students to use the bridge over the years, with limited and infrequent successes.
Thornton said local representatives of Durham who are working directly in Cumberland will be coming to the School Committee tonight, Sept. 9, to help solve the issues being seen during the first two weeks of school.
Jorgensen said there are also many issues with the pick-up process that has been concerning for herself and other parents.
“When it came to the whole pick-up schedule, we were told that the Sher-Le-Mon parking lot was for students,” Jorgensen said. “Then after the second day, we were in a long line that went under the bridge by the high school and the police came by and said you have to park in Sher-Le-Mon.”
When they told the police that the school had said that they could not park there, she said police insisted that everyone had to. Jorgensen said police told her that they would send a note out to everyone to say it’s OK to park there, but she said she and other families have not received such a note from the high school or the police.
With the Sher-Le-Mon parking lot, Jorgensen said that the wait for the pick-up line may be a little bit better, but that if students eventually start parking there then they will have nowhere to pick up their kids again.
“I know it’s just the first week, so I’m sure it’s chaotic for everyone,” Jorgensen stated. “But I also know it completely backs up Mendon Road, which for everyone that is trying to get through one of the main roads in Cumberland, it’s very annoying for them as well.”