Democrat Photo by Dan Hust
ERIN PECK, RIGHT, loads her family into the car in Lake Huntington. From the left are 4-year-old Martin, 6-year-old Jacob and 9-year-old Bruce.
Lack of Pre-K Transportation Takes Toll in SW District
By Dan Hust
JEFFERSONVILLE December 22, 2006 Erin Peck says she followed the rules.
She met the April application deadline.
She talked to all the right people.
She even followed up when she didn’t hear anything for a while.
“I did everything the State Education Department [SED] told me to do,” the Lake Huntington resident recalls.
But the Sullivan West Central School District stood firm: her 4-year-old cannot be bused to St. Peter’s pre-K program in Liberty.
“They said, ‘If we do it for you, we have to do it for everybody,’” Peck says.
That pretty much sums it up, according to SW Superintendent Alan Derry.
“All schools who have a full-fledged pre-K might have some obligation,” he relates, “but we don’t have a pre-K program here.”
SW has a limited pre-K program where about 16-18 special-needs students are accepted annually based on a pre-screening process, according to Derry.
Save for Eldred, all of SW’s neighboring school districts already offer a universal pre-K program.
Jeffersonville resident Kim Breihof tried to get her daughter into SW’s pre-K this year, but the 3-year-old tested at the level of a 4-5-year-old.
“Basically, my daughter’s been discriminated against because she’s smart,” says Breihof.
Breihof and Peck are two of a handful of parents upset with SW for not providing pre-K or even transportation to local private schools offering such.
“They already go to the [three] private schools in Liberty,” Peck explains, referencing SW’s busing of K-12 students to St. Peter’s Catholic school, Light and Life Christian Academy and Glory to God Christian High School.
Instead, Peck and Breihof have to drive their preschool children to St. Peter’s themselves.
“She’s a good hour or hour and a half late to school every day,” says Breihof of her daughter, as the registered nurse has to get her three other children ready for school at SW and then dash off to work after dropping her daughter at St. Peter’s.
Peck, for her part, finds it ironic and frustrating that she has to drive her one son to St. Peter’s while an SW bus takes her two older boys to the same place: St. Peter’s.
According to Derry and SW Board Chair Arthur Norden, state education law indicates that public schools only need to provide transportation to private schools in the same way they do for themselves.
In other words, if SW buses a second-grader to its Jeffersonville campus, by law it must also bus a second-grader to a local private school. There are certain limitations and requirements, but the essence of the law is equal treatment.
Yet while the law is crystal clear on this regarding K-12, it’s not quite as clear on pre-K.
That’s why Norden and Derry have sent the matter to the school’s attorney for review and are awaiting a reply. Thereafter, the board will discuss it in executive session, as it applies to particular students and is thus private.
Breihof and Peck aren’t optimistic, however, and an SED spokesman’s recent remarks do nothing to change that feeling.
“The one certainty in the area of transportation of students to non-public pre-K is that if the child receives special education services and has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that says the child will attend a particular school, the district must provide transportation,” wrote SED spokesman Tom Dunn to the Democrat’s request for clarifying the law.
“In all other cases, the issue could become the subject of a 310 appeal to the commissioner [of education], wherein a petitioner (parent) appeals to the commissioner to reverse a decision made by a school district,” he continued.
“Recognizing that potential for an appeal, as the commissioner’s spokesman, I am constrained from commenting further.”
“By the time I filed an appeal and got an answer, my daughter would be in kindergarten,” Breihof pointed out.
So for now she’ll keep paying the $555 a month for St. Peter’s pre-K and latchkey programs and deal with the transportation issues even while her husband, a sheriff’s deputy, is intensely training for six months at a K-9 academy.
“It’s just one added stress I shouldn’t have to worry about,” Breihof laments.
Still… “my daughter’s getting an awesome education,” she says firmly.
That’s also why all of Peck’s children continue to go to St. Peter’s, adds Peck, who runs a construction company with her husband, Paul.
“We just want a better education,” she says. “I don’t like what I’ve seen [at SW].”
Both mothers admit the issue will soon be over for them, but what about other families seeking pre-K?
“How can you offer it to some and not to all?” asks Breihof.
It is legal, said Derry, and SW’s pre-K offerings might easily stay limited for a long time to come.
“Absolutely we are not considering it,” Derry said of adding universal pre-K. “It is a tremendous expense, even when it is aided.”