Castro Principal: Late School Bus Arrivals Hit Minority Students Hardest

For the past three years, school buses have consistently arrived late at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy at 4235 19th St. in the Castro.

Disproportionately impacting students coming from the Bayview, the late buses leave students scarfing down their breakfasts—provided to each Harvey Milk student—and force the school to delay programming.

”My grandson usually is rushing in by the end of morning recess," said Bayview resident Mardena Graham. “My hope is that we get one consistent driver who can get him to school so he has sufficient time to transition from the bus to the classroom.”

Despite the intervention of principal Ronnie Machado, who said the late bus service is a civil rights issue, the issue is ongoing. Now, the school is taking the drastic measure of delaying the beginning of the school day until all students have arrived. 

Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in the Castro. | Photo: Roy McKenzie

The school has a start time of 9:30am. After breakfast is served, faculty, staff and students gather for “the circle," a daily meeting for announcements and community bonding. With the late buses, some students arrive just before the circle begins. 

”We have students from low-income communities—mostly of color—that are not receiving the same opportunities as other students," Machado said. "They have the right to get the same format of education as their counterparts. By not taking a stance, we are part of the system holding them down.”

SFUSD bus schedules for Harvey Milk show that students are supposed to arrive at 9:20am.

However, the buses—which are dispatched by charter bus company First Student—often arrive ten minutes late. And according to one Harvey Milk parent, some buses were as much as 30 minutes late on the first day of school on August 27th. 

Recess at Harvey Milk Academy. | Photo: Harvey Milk CIvil Rights Academy/Facebook

Machado said there were several issues with the SFUSD buses. “Any principal and parent familiar with the system knows that it’s not the best," Machado told us, "and that these buses are rarely on time unless you are one of the first schools on this list." 

He also noted that budget cuts have reduced the number of buses and stops; most of the school's Bayview-based students meet at Leola M. Havard Early Education at 1520 Oakdale. 

According to Anita Salmae Green, whose grandson attends Alice Fong Yu Alternative School in the Inner Sunset, it’s not just Harvey Milk that has this issue. Her grandson regularly misses parts of his morning routine while waiting for his bus.

“[We] very seldom see the buses come on time," she said. "Leola Harvard is the first stop, so I'm not sure why this is an ongoing problem. We are used to standing here—usually until 8:50am."

First Student operates a dispatch station at 2270 Jerrold Ave. in Bayview, about 1.3 miles away from Leola Havard.

Machado rode one of the First Student buses last Wednesday, with the knowledge of the company. It successfully transported the students from various pick-up locations to the school on time.

Progress was short-lived, however: two days later, students again arrived ten minutes behind schedule. 

"It was a dog-and-pony show," he said. "They sent out this nice new bus because they knew that I would be there. It doesn't matter if it's not consistent. The parents, however, were happy to hear that I would be joining the students."

Jen Marley—a Twin Peaks resident and Harvey Milk parent—said parents applauded Machado when he told them that he would be riding on the school bus with students.  

“I was very shocked when he told us why these children are missing out on morning activities," Marley told Hoodline. “I'm glad that he's doing something about it and bringing it to the forefront. I think it's good for kids to see how wrong it is, as well.“

Photo: Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy/Facebook

When we reached out to First Student, manager Mary Liljedahl said traffic is the main issue. 

"I don't know if you are in SF and have tried to drive in the city during morning rush hour," she said. "If you have, then you must understand the difficulties in getting anywhere."

She noted that SFUSD's transportation unit assigned the bus schedules. "We follow the schedules we are given and offer input when things could work better," she said.

"Harvey Milk is the third run in the schedule for the bus as it is. A 9:20am drop off means that we pull into a 7:40am school, then an 8:30am school and then the 9:20am school," she said. "If anything happens along the way, it is like a domino effect."

However, Bayview parents disagreed. 

"We all think it has to with the area," Bayview resident Lolita Sanchez told Hoodline. "I don't think [First Student] puts much priority into this area as they do for other areas. They think it's low-income and it doesn't matter. It’s not right. It's a priority for all kids to get to school on time."

Sanchez said the community's next step is bringing the issue to an SFUSD board meeting. 

When contacted for comment, School Board President Shamann Walton said he was unaware of the issue around late buses, but he was disappointed and promised to look into it further. 

Machado also noted that he is working with SFUSD’s chief of policy and operations Orla O'Keeffe, who developed the policy for student transportation.

“She is well aware of what’s happening and will help us tackle this," the principal said.

He noted that he had little recourse over First Student and its drivers, as he lacked managerial oversight. "Yet, I am the one being held responsible when these kids aren’t able to participate,” he pointed out. 

In the meantime, Machado has made it clear to parents, faculty, and students that class will not start until all students of his school are off the buses, able to eat breakfast and join the circle.

“I know it’s risky delaying the school day until all the buses deliver each student," he said. "But I owe it to our students and their parents to ensure they are all getting the same opportunities. Those are the principles this school stands on.”

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Castro principal late school bus arrivals hit minority students hardest