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Parents push back against non-transportation zones in Williamsburg-James City County schools

This school year, families within a half mile of elementary schools in the Williamsburg-James City County school division must adjust to "non-transportation zones."

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Several parents are concerned about their children getting to and from school this year in Williamsburg and James City County. 

Last week, 13News Now reported about pushback to a decision by the school division to create Non-Transportation Zones for students living within a certain distance from their schools. 

Now that class is underway, many affected parents are calling for changes. 

"It's rough," said Andre Lee, of Williamsburg. 

Lee lives in the Longhill Grove Apartments complex with his granddaughter, who is a new kindergartener at D.J. Montague Elementary.  

Students returned to school on Monday in the division. 

Lee walks with a limp after several surgeries and doesn’t have a car, and he now walks his little scholar to school everyday.  

"That’s a long walk for me," said Lee. "We had to stop about two times.” 

This academic year, parents and students within a half mile of the elementary schools in the Williamsburg-James City County school division must adjust to being now classified within a "Non-Transportation Zone," a radius that also extends for one mile outside of the division's secondary schools. 

Lee is one of many affected parents who have reached out to 13News Now unsure or uneasy about how their kids will get to school. Several claim they do not have reliable transportation or do not have work schedules to accommodate pickup in the afternoon or early morning. 

According to a spokesperson for the school division, there have been four messages of correspondence delivered this calendar year. However, she said the conversation about creation of the zones dates back to last year. 

Kara Wall, a school division spokesperson, previously told 13News Now bus driver shortages, in part, sparked the conversation.

Two years ago, the division began contracting with a company to transport some smaller groups of students in order to allow the division’s drivers to focus on larger groups in need of a ride. However, “the contractual agreement is not sustainable,” said Wall. 

Division leaders, then, sought another company to conduct an efficiency study to determine best use of resources and staff, and the recommendations included consolidating stops and forming "non-transportation zones." 

Wall said division leaders first implemented the plan for high school students, with a designated radius of one mile around the school, last school year. In August, the school board established the policy for elementary schools for this academic year. 

Several parents complained to 13NewsNow about lack of communication prior to the academic year. However, the school division showed 13News Now at least nine occasions dating back to May 2022, in which notifications were shared about discussions or plans for the zones.  

According to the division spokesperson, there have been four messages of correspondence delivered this calendar year. 

“It’s tough on us, especially the parents. Who wants their little kid walking down this road," said Lee.

Still, parents like Lee are concerned now that the school year has started. 

A petition formed last week has already garnered more than 280 signatures. 

A local advocacy group, the Village Initiative, said they plan to send a second letter in as many weeks to division leaders. This time, they’re calling for additional safety measures, including crossing guards or alternative transportation services. They’re also concerned about speed limits in some areas. 

Wall said leaders considered several factors before making the decision, including sidewalks, speed limits, crosswalks and more. 

"We are committed to safety for our students and will continue to work with families and school administrators to address questions and concerns about students traveling to and from school each day, however, we don’t anticipate changes to the decision at this time," she told 13News Now Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Lee wants one thing. 

"Bring back the transportation for the children," he said. 

The WJCC school board’s next board meeting is scheduled for September 15. 

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