FORCED TO TAKE TAXIS TO SCHOOL

Kids dis­placed by hur­ri­cane face trans­porta­tion woes to classes

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY MIKE CON­NORS

VIR­GINIA BEACH | While most chil­dren are rid­ing a bus to school each morn­ing, Kyliegh and Trenyce Had­away are tak­ing a taxi.

That wasn’t the case at the start of the year. The sis­ters used to hop on a bus from their home in the Way­point at Lynnhaven apart­ments. Kyliegh goes to Green Run El­e­men­tary, Trenyce to Land­stown Mid­dle.

Then Hur­ri­cane Matthew hit in early Oc­to­ber, leav­ing many like the Had­aways tem­po­rar­ily home­less. The storm set off a chain re­ac­tion that still causes headaches for fam­i­lies and school of­fi­cials.

“I can’t wait for the school year to be fin­ished,” said Ar­lene Min­tah, Kyliegh and Trenyce’s mother.

Try­ing to get chil­dren dis­placed by the hur­ri­cane to school has cost not only stu­dents learn­ing time but the school di­vi­sion money — and lots of it. That’s partly be­cause of a tweak in fed­eral law that kicked in days be­fore Matthew.

Long-stand­ing fed­eral law says that if stu­dents be­come home­less, their di­vi­sion must al­low them to keep at­tend­ing the school they were at when they were dis­placed. On Oct. 1 — one week be­fore Matthew — a change to the law man­dated that school di­vi­sions also pay to get the stu­dents to their orig­i­nal schools un­til the end of the year.

Vir­ginia Beach has con­sid­ered us­ing buses to trans­port home­less stu­dents, but not all dis­placed stu­dents live on reg­u­lar bus routes. So for sev­eral years the di­vi­sion has worked with Hamp­ton Roads Trans­porta­tion Inc., which uses cabs to help solve the prob­lem.

Be­cause of Matthew, the trans­porta­tion author­ity’s work­load has soared this school year. Be­tween Oc­to­ber and De­cem­ber, it pro­vided 15,720 taxi rides for the di­vi­sion, more than dou­ble the 5,950 in those months a year ear­lier. The school di­vi­sion’s to­tal bill for cab ser­vices in 2015-16 was a lit­tle more than $550,000. Through Jan. 31 of this year — about half­way through the school year — it was a lit­tle more than $332,000.

Pa­tri­cia Popp, state co­or­di­na­tor for the ed­u­ca­tion of home­less chil­dren and youth, ex­pects the tweak in the law to raise costs around Vir­ginia.

But cost isn’t the only prob­lem. Gay Thomas, the di­vi­sion’s co­or­di­na­tor for home­less ed­u­ca­tion, told the City Coun­cil last month that the dis­placed stu­dents of­ten ar­rive late for school or re­turn home be­hind sched­ule.

“It is im­pact­ing the stu­dents sig­nif­i­cantly right now,” Ms. Thomas said.

The di­vi­sion has asked coun­cil mem­bers to tem­po­rar­ily amend a city code to let the trans­porta­tion author­ity use cabs from cities other than Vir­ginia Beach to trans­port home­less chil­dren. If it be­came law, it would ex­pire on June 30.

The code cur­rently pre­vents cabs li­censed in most other cities from pick­ing up pas­sen­gers in Vir­ginia Beach. The only ex­cep­tions are taxis from Portsmouth, Suf­folk and New­port News be­cause those cities have rec­i­proc­ity agree­ments with Vir­ginia Beach.

But Vir­ginia Beach cab driv­ers are push­ing back. At a Feb. 21 coun­cil meet­ing, they asked that the or­di­nance not be amended. Mo­hiyi­dine Cheik, who owns Or­ange Cab, told coun­cil mem­bers the move would “re­ally take our busi­ness.”

Mr. Cheik asked the coun­cil to de­lay a de­ci­sion un­til more taxi com­pa­nies could join the con­ver­sa­tion. Vir­ginia Beach cabs like his could help fill the void, he said.

“My com­pany has ev­ery­thing that this project re­quires,” Mr. Cheik said.

Coun­cil mem­bers in­def­i­nitely tabled the mat­ter un­til the school di­vi­sion can pro­vide them more in­for­ma­tion.

Ms. Thomas said school staff also are ex­plor­ing us­ing ven­dors with con­tracts in other di­vi­sions, but that would mean sub­mit­ting pro­posal re­quests and then ask­ing to have the or­di­nance go back be­fore the coun­cil.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Kyliegh Had­away of Vir­ginia Beach watches for the cab that will take her to Green Run El­e­men­tary School, where she is in the 5th grade. Her fam­ily was dis­placed by Hur­ri­cane Matthew, but Kyliegh and her sis­ter still at­tend their orig­i­nal schools.

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