FORCED TO TAKE TAXIS TO SCHOOL
Kids displaced by hurricane face transportation woes to classes
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.
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.