While grandparents still love to regale kids with tales of how far they walked to school, Cloquet resident Holly Hart is concerned about the distances Cloquet students are required to walk, especially in the winter.
Under current school district policy, some busing services are unavailable:
• Elementary school students who live a mile or closer to their school;
• Middle school students who live within 1.5 miles of their school; and
• High school students who live within 2 miles of their school.
Hart asked Cloquet School Board members and district administration to reconsider the mileage requirements, at least during the cold season.
"Frostbite sets in in 15 minutes in zero-degree weather when the windchill is minus 10 degrees," said Hart, who lives 1.2 miles from the new middle school and whose 11-year-old can't use the bus service. "It takes 25 minutes to walk 1.2 miles. I clocked it."
Her safety concerns extended beyond frostbite, however. In the winter, sidewalks are often not cleared by residents after it snows - city code doesn't require that residents clear sidewalks - which often leaves pedestrians no choice but to walk in the street. Last year, Hart dislocated her knee after falling on a icy street because sidewalks were piled high with snow.
And then there are the simple issues of personal safety, she said, referring to recent reports of sexual trafficking in the region.
Hart inaccurately told the board that Cloquet Transit Company is "making the rules."
Walking boundaries are set by the Cloquet School District and follow federal and state guidelines. Cloquet Transit Co. is a private company contracted to the school district and doesn’t mandate the limits. It is the school district's responsibility to set the busing boundaries.
"The ultimate responsibility for adequate busing lies with the taxpayers. How much are they willing to spend to provide ridership for any and all students?" said Patrick A. Byrne, director of transportation for Cloquet Transit.
School Board member Dave Battaglia recalled discussions with a busing consultant hired by the district last year to help determine more efficient bus routes.
"I thought the consultant recommended we have spots where kids (who live to close to qualify for busing) could go and catch a bus, especially in the winter?" he said.
Superintendent Michael Cary confirmed the district has considered that as a seasonal solution. He told the Pine Journal on Tuesday, Sept. 18, that district officials are hoping to meet with Cloquet Transit in early October. The district contracts for its busing services with the local company and has done so for a long time.
When asked by School Board Chairman Ted Lammi what would be her solution "in a perfect world," Hart said she'd like to see all kids bused to school, especially in the winter.
"I could probably be on board with a mile in decent weather, but in wintertime, I struggle with even a mile because of the temperatures," she said. "The windchill can be quick and cold. And because of how much snow we can get.
"I don't have a perfect solution, but I'm hoping there can be a discussion."
The next Cloquet School Board meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25, in the boardroom on the second floor of Garfield School. The meetings are open to the public.