St. Johns Forest parents upset after district cancels bus service to K-8 school

St. Johns County School District says new sidewalk will allow kids to walk, bike

ST. JOHNS, Fla. – A group of parents from the St. Johns Forest neighborhood voiced safety concerns after the St. Johns County School District canceled bus service to its K-8 school.

The district canceled the bus service because the state is building a new walkway from the neighborhood to Liberty Pines Academy.

On Friday, construction crews could be seen getting ready to put up a fence. On the other side of the walkway, LED lights have been installed as part of the sidewalk project that's set to be complete by the new school year.

Parents who live in the neighborhood about a mile down the road from the construction told News4Jax that they have major concerns about safety.

But the school district said it went through a state checklist to determine that the walkway is not hazardous.

Earlier this month, the school district sent an electronic letter to 235 families in St. Johns Forest, notifying them that their bus service would not continue for the 2018-19 school year. 

"We had heard that there was going to be some bus changes," mother Amanda Le said. "But no one ever indicated that there would be anything like lack of bus service."

Al Pantano, director of transportation for the school district, told News4Jax that the sidewalk under construction creates a new way for students to get to school, either walking or biking. 

"The law says that, if you live 2 miles or more from the school, you are entitled to transportation in the state of Florida," Pantano said. "You probably have an opinion about that. I probably have an opinion about that. But at the end of the day, that is what the law says and that drives who we bus and who we don’t."

According to Pantano, it is about 4,300 feet or 0.8 mile from the St. Johns Forest entry gate to the edge of an entrance of Liberty Pines Academy.

Two parents made the walk with their children this week and recorded the entire walk in a Facebook Live video.

"Even when workers are present, they close a lane so that workers can work on the sidewalk," Le said. "But our children are expected to walk on the sidewalk, which is 1 to 2 feet away up this 9B ... ramp. This is a really dangerous situation." 

Parents also argue their children need a key card to open the gate to the neighborhood. It’s another reason why they said the children should not have to walk to school. 

"Our legal problem right now is that, because of our bylaws, we are not allowed to issue these cards to children under the age of 15, which is every student that would be attending Liberty Pines Academy," Le said.

Pantano said many of the worries brought to the district's attention are countywide concerns, but it must be fair, consistent and following the same rules for everyone in St. Johns County.

Superintendent Tim Forson sent an email to residents earlier Friday, saying, “ I regret to share with you that we will uphold the decision to terminate transportation services for this area of St. Johns Forest."

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