DPS board calls RTA idea to not bus students a civil rights issue

Superintendent says they will ‘take action’ if RTA does not bus high school students next year.

Dayton school board members said the RTA’s recent suggestion to remove students from RTA buses is a civil rights issue, and the district’s superintendent said Dayton Public Schools will “take action” if the RTA chooses not to bus students next year.

In February, the CEO of the Regional Transit Authority, Bob Ruzinsky, told the Dayton City Commission he wanted Dayton Public Schools to take over the responsibility of busing high school students again. He said students were causing problems on RTA property, including at bus stops, the downtown hub and sometimes on buses.

Ruzinsky said at the city commission meeting he is considering no longer selling bus passes at all but instead requiring anyone getting on the bus to pay with cash. He told the Dayton Daily News on Tuesday that there are no current plans to discontinue bus passes for next year.

“The fact that RTA is considering creating policies to intentionally limit access to public transportation is wrong because it denies students the rights to public transportation,” said Chrisondra Goodwine, the president of Dayton Public School Board. “This move also directly impacts their ability to receive a free and equitable public education.”

Dayton Public Schools currently purchases about 3,000 RTA passes a month for charter and DPS high school students — at about $10 more per pass than normal, the district says. DPS handles busing of kindergarten through eighth-grade students on its yellow buses. The district is legally required to provide or pay for transportation for all qualifying students who live within the district boundaries, whether they attend DPS schools or not.

DPS officials say there have been ongoing issues with the RTA getting students to school on time safely.

The location of the school district’s press conference Monday was right next to busy Nicholas Road, where Dunbar High School students have to get on and off the bus to get to and from school. District officials said the bus stop used to be in a safer location but was moved, saying that some bus stop locations have been moved without warning and stop times have changed abruptly.

Ruzinsky said public transit is not the best way to move students to school. He said public transit routes run along major transportation corridors, most often require transfers, cross through varies cities, and do not run at frequencies that are conducive to moving large concentrations of riders in short time windows. He said school bus routes are more point-to-point focused and designed to move large groups during short time frames.

“The simple fact remains that providing transportation for school students is a requirement of the state to the individual school districts and they are best equipped to handle that responsibility,” Ruzinsky said.

However, school districts all across the Dayton area have struggled to find enough drivers in recent years, as the local boom in logistics, warehouse and delivery businesses have drawn some truck and bus drivers away from school jobs.

ExploreRTA chief wants students off buses, citing fear; DPS: We can’t bus them all

RTA officials also cited students’ role in problems near the downtown bus hub just north of Fourth Street, between Main and Jefferson. That area is used by students and nonstudents alike. According to a recent Dayton Daily News analysis, Dayton police have responded to hundreds of calls for service there in the last six months.

“The majority of incidents have not involved our students,” Goodwine said. “It would be more conducive for the RTA to follow up with the appropriate schools to address these concerns, rather than attempting to bar all students from the RTA altogether.”

DPS Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said the RTA should be reaching out to individual schools or to her as the superintendent when specific students cause problems, but so far, that hasn’t happened.

“I’m just saying that students need to be identified, for whatever school they go to, so their schools can apply whatever discipline,” she said. “We are not seeing any of our students that have been brought to us or their names told to us.”

Ruzinsky said the RTA has a zero tolerance policy for violence.

“If a student is involved in a fight on RTA’s property or bus, we reach out to the schools to identify the individual or individuals involved,” Ruzinsky said. “The RTA then asks the school to revoke the bus pass of the student or students involved in violence. Additionally, those individuals are trespassed from RTA property.”

DPS is busing about 12,000 students every day to DPS and charter schools, said David Lawrence, the business manager for the district, who is also in charge of transportation. DPS has about 11,000 students total from preschool through high school, many of whom are not bus-eligible because they live close to their school.

Joe Lacey, a school board member who lives downtown, said he wants to make sure downtown is a welcoming place for people. But this is also about allowing a community to access public transportation, he said.

“The idea of making rules or policies or procedures of your public transportation system to exclude Dayton Public School students is a violation, I believe, of civil rights,” Lacey said.

School board member Jocelyn Rhynard pointed out that large urban districts across Ohio are struggling with busing this year, including Columbus City Schools. Apart from the RTA, Dayton schools have also received complaints from charter and parochial schools who say their students are dropped off late and picked up late.

“We have to transport thousands of kids to schools every single day,” Rhynard said. “And the difficulty and logistics of getting that done is difficult.”

Lolli said the district is working with the state to change laws around what the district is required to do.

But she and Lawrence said the district is considering alternative options for next school year, if the RTA does not allow students on the buses. While Lolli plans to leave DPS at the end of this school year, she said the school board and the district’s team will continue to work on this.

“Right now, Dr. Lolli, myself and others at Dayton Public Schools are working on a plan for next year, to see if we can free up some buses to provide transportation,” Lawrence said.

Last year, DPS used an outside yellow bus service, First Student, to provide busing to charter school students, while DPS used its own drivers and buses to transport their own students. But with state law changes that included increased fines for not getting kids to school on time, DPS took over busing again this year.

Lolli sad if RTA does not bus students next year, they will “take action,” but said she didn’t know what that action would be yet.

“It’s the law,” she said, to bus everyone.

Staff Writer Cornelius Frolik contributed to this story.

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