TAMPA - Following a stellar elementary school experience, Julian Kee was really looking forward to starting sixth grade at Woodrow Wilson Middle School this year, except for one thing.
"It's a longer walk to school," he said. "And it takes forever."
An estimated half hour or more, he says, traversing a good portion of South Tampa, along Habana and Swann Avenues.
"I just want him on the school bus," said Julien's mom, Lana. "If they can bend some sort of small rule in order to get him on there, I mean he's had no behavioral issues..." and at that point, the interview had to stop.
"That's the school bus right there," said Lana, pointing to the yellow bus just a couple hundred feet from where we were standing.
"It's kind of silly," said Julien.
But according to statutes set by the state and school district, it's not.
"Outside of two miles, we provide transportation," said Hillsborough Schools Spokesman Steve Hegarty. "Inside of two miles, if there are no hazards, there is an expectation that you can ride your bike or walk to school."
As it stands now, Julian's jaunt to school clocks in at just under a mile and a half. Those kids over on the other street getting on the bus are right at two miles. But that stop is all the way across four lanes of traffic on Azeele Street, and that would constitute a hazard that the district doesn't think Julian should have to face.
"I've offered to drive him over there," said Lana. "I've offered to walk him across the street myself , but they won't budge."
With a budget approaching $70 million for student transportation, the school system says it can't afford to make exceptions for every instance of perceived hardship. Besides, district leadership told me that a walk could help keep middle schoolers more fit.
"We think that makes sense," said the school spokesman. "And we try to enforce it."
And while Lana laments the "rules are rules" bottom line, she says her son suffers. "He has a very, very big passion for school and this is kind of discouraging him," she said.
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