Duval County magnet students to have long walks after bus rides

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jack Perras' 6- and 12-year-old sons are going back to school in less than two weeks, and he's worried about how they'll get home.

Perras said his sons will ride separate buses and have to walk home apart. His 6-year-old will get dropped off just a few blocks from home, but he said his 12-year-old, who's going to Kirby-Smith Middle, a magnet school, has a long way to go.

Perras said after school his son will get dropped off at Ed Austin Regional Park, and he's expected to walk home from there -- a little less than three miles. Perras said that's too far for his son to walk.

"Because we chose to send him to a gifted magnet school, which had a high science and technology program, that's the situation," Perras said. "It almost feels like we're being punished for sending them do a different school."

Perras is one of a few parents who have contacted Channel 4 concerned about new Duval County transportation policies. Last year, magnet bus routes were cut back because it wasn't in the budget. This year, the district is spending some $4 million more to reinstate it at seven schools, but Duval County Public Schools spokeswoman Marsha Oliver said it's not possible to drop all magnet school kids off at their doorsteps.

"If we actually provided that one-and-a-half-mile rule to our secondary magnet schools, that would cost about $9 million," Oliver said.

She said when parents decide to enroll their kids in magnet programs, they make a choice, and the typical bus routes for neighborhood schools, which drop children off within a mile of their homes, no longer applies. Oliver said private bus companies used when there were no public buses are still available.

"When you make those choices, you need ample information, and this information has been available to them," Oliver said.

Perras isn't pleased but does understand budgets are tight. His family is now looking for other ways to get the kids home.

"We'll manage because we have to, but I know there have to be parents that are in much worse situations than we are," he said.

School officials say parents can always call and discuss other options. They can also visit the district's website, where there's a special transportation page.