Hundreds more Cape Henlopen students will walk to school under a new transportation plan that could be adopted by the school board this week.
The plan also calls for shorter bus rides on some of the district's longest routes.
“If you live within half mile of the school, then you should walk,” said board member Sara Wilkinson.
Superintendent Robert Fulton said the district would no longer use state-funded buses to transport students in the walk zone.
Cape staggers start times at district schools, but each bus is currently doing a single route to transport students. As the district has grown, so has the need for more buses. State education officials will not agree to pay for more buses for Cape schools unless the district schedules double bus runs, meaning the same bus would be used for two runs, said Director of Administrative Services Brian Bassett.
On May 8, Bassett and Transportation Supervisor Len Richardson presented a three-year transportation plan to the board estimating that about 300 students who currently ride buses would walk to school. Many students attending Shields, Milton and H.O. Brittingham elementaries would walk to school under the new plan, Bassett said.
He said he does not know for certain which neighborhoods would be affected except for Shipbuilders in Milton, where students ride to Milton Elementary although it is a short walk to the school. Richardson said students will not be required to walk to Beacon Middle because it is too dangerous to walk on Route 24; many neighborhoods within a half mile of Rehoboth Elementary School also would continue riding buses because it would be too dangerous for them to cross Route 1 and the Lewes-Rehoboth canal.
Board member Jen Burton said she was reluctant to approve the plan until she has more details on which students would walk to school.
“I feel like this is so quick that I don't even have a map of where kids are going to be walking,” she said.
That detail is coming, Bassett said, as he and Richardson review walk routes in person to determine the routes are safe with no hazards. Once safe walking routes are established, he said, he hopes to inform parents of the details, probably within three months.
Board member Andy Lewis agreed the district needs a new bus plan.
“We're going to need to do something next year with buses,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are kids that are going to have to walk.”
Although more students may have to walk, those who ride buses will have much shorter rides, Bassett said. Bus rides for students in outlying areas often last more than an hour. Double bus runs would give each school more buses, allowing for shorter routes and ride times.
Under a double-run system, the number of buses at the middle schools would more than double. Mariner Middle would go from nine buses to 25 and Beacon would go from eight to 23, according to the plan.
The elementary schools also would receive one or two more buses for shorter bus routes, Bassett said.
However, in order to implement a double-run system, Bassett said, the middle schools would have to start a half-hour earlier at 7:30 a.m. and the elementary schools would all have to start at 8:30 a.m. Middle schools would dismiss at 2:30 p.m. and elementary schools at 3:30 p.m.
Current start times vary by school: Shields Elementary School hours are 8:20 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.; H.O. Brittingham and Milton elementaries are 7:20 a.m. to 2:20 p.m.; Rehoboth Elementary hours are 8:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. At the middles schools, Beacon hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. while Mariner is 7:55 a.m. to 2:55 p.m.; and Cape Henlopen High School 7:55 a.m. to 2:55 p.m.
Cape school board will discuss the new transportation plan for approval at its meeting 6 p.m. Thursday, May 22, in the cafeteria of Beacon Middle School.