Some Island students lose bus rides

Katie O'Connor
Katie O'Connor plans to fight for her son's right to ride the school bus to Anna Maria Elementary School. - Tom Vaught | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – Nine Anna Maria Elementary School (AME) students who live on the mainland and ride a school bus were recently given letters saying they would no longer be eligible to ride the buses.

One of them went to the son of Katie O’Connor, who works at Sato Real Estate on the Island and lives on the mainland. Her son gets on the bus at Palma Sola Presbyterian Church.

When she received the note, she said she was mortified.

She wrote an e-mail to school Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene.

She pointed out they live in an area where she could have sent her son to AME through the School Choice program, but did not, applying instead under the “hardship” program. School Choice students will continue to ride the buses. The period of time to change her son’s eligibility has lapsed until next year.

Dr. Greene answered her e-mail saying the school administration is dealing with high absenteeism and bus driver shortages, and one of the solutions was to combine the two bus routes that serve AME into one. She pointed out that bus transportation for hardship students is not guaranteed, but that the district had allowed hardship students to ride the buses anyway. By combining the buses, the remaining bus would be too full to allow the hardship students.

In her response, O’Connor said, “This mid-year change is unacceptable to many families. Many of us would have changed our child’s status had we known such decisions would be made mid-year. According to the school board employee I spoke with last week, there is no reason that my son shouldn’t be labeled a School Choice student other than the form I filled out three years ago. Obviously, had I known this would prevent him from being a bus rider, I would have changed his status last year during the provided window.”

O’Connor said she would address the situation at the Manatee County School Board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

More than half of the students who ride buses to and from AME each school day don’t live on Anna Maria Island.