The bus arrives in Edinburgh shortly after 6 a.m., more than two hours before school starts, and that’s when the day begins for a Franklin elementary student.
Due to circumstances out of the student’s control, the child’s family moved more than 15 miles outside of the Franklin school district. But the family didn’t want their child to have to switch schools, and under federal law, the school district has to provide transportation to students who are considered homeless.
About 30 students across the county have a similar bus ride everyday after their living arrangements abruptly changed due to multiple circumstances, such as a fire at their home, their family getting evicted, or an environment unsuitable for the child. During the 2014-15 academic year, about 16,000 students across the state depended on the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to stay at the same school, with the same teachers and friends, after their family fell on hard times, said Julie Smart, the McKinney-Vento education coordinator for the Indiana Department of Education.
More than five Franklin students rely on two buses that travel outside of the school district to get to and from school. In the afternoon, a bus takes one student to Columbus. But the student isn’t home until about 4:30 p.m. on most days — about an hour and a half after school ends — because the bus driver has to complete their local route before heading to Columbus, said Doug Dickinson, transportation director at Franklin Community Schools.
Clark Pleasant has a student who is picked up and dropped off in Columbus, another in Trafalgar and one more in Indianapolis, transportation director Robert Downin said. Clark-Pleasant has about 10 students living outside of the school district but uses four buses due to the multiple, scattered locations where the students have had to move.
“I think the law is a good thing,” Downin said. “We have a lot of students we pick up, and in most cases it may be longer miles. But students who are in that situation, it’s not the kids’ faults. They have their friends at school, so it’s good for the kids.”
The act, which has been enforced since 1987, ensures that a student won’t have to change schools just because he or she becomes homeless, or displaced, and is forced to live with family or friends in another city, or school district.
That means local school districts are sending buses as far as the north and east sides of Indianapolis. Buses are leaving before 6 a.m. to pick up one or two students, then starting their normal route within the school district. And in the evening, the displaced students are taken home last, sometimes making for a 10- or 12-hour day for those children. But officials say even a longer day is often better than uprooting the child from their current school.
“The act provides transportation so the student doesn’t withdraw, enroll, withdraw, enroll. It’s in the student’s best interest to remain in the same school because of teacher and social relationships,” Smart said.
Liaisons at each school district review a student’s living situation to determine how long they will need to stay with a family member, friend or even a homeless shelter. Often, even if the living arrangement is months long, it is in the student’s best interest to stay in the same school, said Vicki Noblitt, Greenwood Community Schools’ McKinney-Vento Liaison.
Sometimes, it may be better for the student to transfer to the school district they have been moved to, such as if the child will have to be up very early and arrive home late in the day, Noblitt said.
More than five years ago, two Greenwood students moved to Pike County in southwestern Indiana, more than an hour and a half away, Greenwood schools transportation director Mike Hildebrand said. Greenwood school officials urged the parents to enroll the students in the district the family had moved to, Hildebrand said.
Hildebrand is concerned about how long students spend on the bus. Last school year, a Greenwood student had to go live with family members in Martinsville, more than 30 miles away. If students live in Indianapolis, that can make for a 10-hour day for those kids, Hildebrand said.
“We have had to transport some students to Wayne Township. That’s really not in the best interest of the student because it ended up being a 10-hour day for the student, and that’s extremely difficult on that child,” Hildebrand said.
“But I certainly understand the need. It’s in the best interest of the student if they stay in the same classroom and school, at least for the remainder of that school year.”
Families are supposed to tell the school liaison about their living situation, but teachers and administrators also are trained by social workers to identify signs that could show a student has been forced to move, such as constant tardiness, Smart said.
But often, students with unique living situations are identified before the school year begins. The school district asks parents as part of the enrollment process if they live in a shelter, are currently displaced or living with family or friends, Smart said.
Students can be bused from another area for the entire school year, but often the living arrangement is temporary. The most common situations are where a family has to stay in a hotel for several weeks or a child lives with a grandparent, aunt or uncle, and their circumstances change frequently, Dickinson said.
For example, two Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson students were living in Taylorsville for a few weeks in the fall semester due to temporary circumstances that forced them to leave their home. But the students have since moved back into the Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson school district, school officials said.
Through the end of 2015, here are the amount of students at local school districts that need to be transported outside of the school district and the cities where they were picked up and dropped off.
East and west sides of Indianapolis.
Columbus, Indianapolis, Franklin.
Columbus, Edinburgh, Prince’s Lakes, Indianapolis.
Whiteland, Indianapolis, Franklin