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Getting your kids to school - the new reality

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- It's the topic everyone's talking about; the loss of the base bus contract for Prairie View and Rushmore Heights housing. Here are the facts - for both legal and financial reasons, the base can no longer provide busing. Douglas School District policy states they only provide busing to families living more than 2.5 miles away from school (the state mandate is actually 5 miles). So what's a parent to do?

The good news is you have options. First, the Youth Center is working to continue to offer busing for children enrolled in the School Age Program. However, there will be an additional fee for this service. The Youth Center is registering for the upcoming school year and spots can fill up quickly. You can find out more information by calling (605) 385-2277 or by visiting www.ellsworthfss.com/youth-center/school-age.

A second option is to work with a bus contractor on your own. This is an option that a number of families are currently exploring. One base family has agreed to take the lead on this and is asking interested families to email rushmorebusservice@yahoo.com with their name, address, contact number, housing area (Prairie View or Rushmore Heights) number of children needing bus service, and what schools their children attend. There will also be a fee for this service that the potential contractors will set.

Third, you can drive your kids to school. One of the drawbacks of this option is traffic congestion. A better idea would be to work with your friends and neighbors to set up a carpool. Carpooling will help reduce the amount of vehicles around schools, and will mean you won't have the sole responsibility of getting your children to and from school each day.

If you drive, please don't wait until the last minute to get out the door. Other families will be trying to rush their kids to school too, and traffic could get backed up. To avoid this last minute rush, Douglas has set up supervised drop-off times for schools in their district:

School                              Drop Off Time            School Start Time
Badger Clark (K-1)         7:45am                       8:05am
Francis Case (2-3)         7:45am                       8:05am
Vandenberg (4-5)           7:30am                       7:50am
Middle School (6-8)        7:35am                       8:00am
High School (9-12)         7:00am                       7:55am

Please don't drop off your children before these times, but if you get your kids to school earlier rather than later, the traffic may not be as bad. Douglas is also adding additional drop-off points at Badger Clark's west parking lot and at Francis Case's east parking lot to ease traffic congestion.

If you need to be at work before the supervised drop-off times, Douglas has a before and after school program that starts at 7 a.m. However, these spots can fill up quickly. For more information, please contact the Carrousel building at (605) 923-0090 or visit http://car.dsdk12.net/carrousel/Before_and_After_School_Child_Care.html.

The last option is to have your children walk. This may not be the answer for everyone, and with our constantly changing South Dakota weather, it may not be appropriate every day. However, it is an option. The base would like everyone who walks to use the Patriot Gate by Vandenberg. The base is constructing a crosswalk there so children can safely cross the road. There are suitable sidewalks from both housing areas to all the Douglas schools and most children will have to walk less than a mile. The farthest distance is about 1.5 miles to the High School. Douglas has numerous crosswalks around the schools and will post crossing guards on 225th Street by Vandenberg and at the corner of 225th Street and Tower Road. The city of Box Elder is also looking at adding a four way stop at that intersection to help slow down traffic.

Parents who are going to have their children walk should talk to them about pedestrian safety. It's also recommended parents walk the route with them beforehand so they know exactly where to go. One idea is to talk with your friends and neighbors and create a "walking school bus." This is a group of kids who walk together each day. Parents can even take turns walking with the children or assign an older student to supervise the group. For those children that are walking, please remember that if they are 10 years of age and older, they need to bring their military ID card with them.

These are some of the options available to parents when school starts on Aug. 28. Regardless of what option your family chooses, please remember to be safe, be vigilant and BE PATIENT! Expect the first week or two to be busy and plan accordingly. The base and school district are committed to work with parents to ensure students can get to school safely. If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions, please contact me at chad.canaan@ellsworth.af.mil.

For the latest updates on school transportation issues, "like" the Ellsworth School Liaison Officer Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/ellsworthafb.slo. Here's to a safe and successful school year!

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