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Monday, October 08, 2007

East Palo Alto Teens Left Waiting

The San Jose Mercury News reports on a recurring problem with East Palo Alto teens:
Carlmont High School freshman Joshua Brass was kicked out of a morning advanced English class after walking in late or missing almost every class the first few weeks of school.

But it's not because he skipped class or hit his alarm clock's "snooze" button too many times. It's because for the first month of school, buses to his school were as much as one hour late three-quarters of the time. Joshua and the hundreds of other East Palo Alto students who are bused 10 miles to Carlmont in Belmont have missed many hours of lectures and class work - time that's especially precious for East Palo Alto students, whose dropout rate is double the district average.

"The worst part is that many kids are so conditioned that the bus comes late, they don't have a sense of urgency about getting to school," said Larry Moody, a board member of the Ravenswood City elementary school district, who is helping to organize the forum. "There is just a tremendous disconnect between how East Palo Alto students are cared for compared to other students there."

Students from East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park, who are predominantly black and Latino, are the only Sequoia students bused to school. About 450 from East Palo Alto attend Carlmont and about 300 from both cities attend Woodside High School.

This year, the bus to Carlmont was late 14 out of the first 19 days of school, according to a report by Principal Andrea Jenoff.

About a dozen parents, students and former students who were interviewed last week by the Mercury News said the buses have been regularly late for years. Some students said they don't mind having more time to goof off; others said they would rather use the time to sleep in.

Joshua, a football player, said he doesn't have any time to waste. His excitement about being accepted back into advanced English faded when he realized he wouldn't be on a level playing field because of lost class time. He decided to take the class next year. But McGee said she is using her outrage to help hold the district accountable.

Like (Kim) McGee (Brass' mother), Bertha Benton has called several school and district officials over the years about the late buses.

Her daughter, Marquel Benton, 16, said being late frequently during her freshman year made the transition into high school difficult.

"We would just be sitting there and sitting there and we'd have to go back home and get a ride," Marquel said. "We would get tardies and it wasn't even our fault."

Marquel said she once confronted her bus driver, asking her, "Why don't you ever come on time?"

"You don't know what I go through," she recalled the bus driver saying.

Evelyn Strauter, a Carlmont junior, said being late to her first-period biology class last year may have led to her falling behind and ultimately failing the class.

No one knows for sure if the late buses are contributing to higher dropout rates, but it is an alarming thought to East Palo Alto leaders who have fought for the education rights of their students for decades.

Q. Is this simply an oversight or an indication of a greater underlying problem of injustice?

Parents and community leaders are holding a forum about the late buses today (10/8) at 6:30 p.m. at 1877 Bay Road (new College Track location) in East Palo Alto.

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