First-graders back off the bus

Janelle Smith never told her daughter, settling into the first days of first grade at Sierra View Elementary School, just how worried she was.

“She doesn’t know that come Monday she may be shipped to a different school,” said Smith, less than an hour before word came down from Chico Unified School District officials that what Smith feared was apparently not coming true.

Several parents of Sierra View first-graders were upset that, due mostly to the mathematics involved in filling out a special school-within-a-school program called Academics Plus, it looked as if their children could be bused to other schools miles away from their homes.

W. Alan Stephenson, director of elementary education for the CSUD, said that this week enrollment changed enough at schools district-wide to hire a teacher for about 15 neighborhood students for whom Sierra View did not have room.

He said parents were worrying about the worst-case scenario, even as administrators worked to try to fix the problem. “It would have unfolded [this way] if they had been patient.”

David Holmes, whose daughter, Taylor, went to kindergarten at Sierra View last year, is disillusioned with the district and feels plans changed only because of pressure from parents and media inquiries.

“I won’t believe it until they put it in writing,” said Holmes, who believes the disruptive development could replay next year, or when his 3-year-old is ready for school.

“We live 60 feet from the school grounds,” fumed Holmes. “We bought a house here so this would be her neighborhood school. There should be no questions asked. If you live in the school boundaries, you should be guaranteed a spot in that school.”

The parents said school officials called the families Friday night—three days before school was to start Aug. 19—and told them the children might be bused from Sierra View to another school.

Stephenson said that, with priority given based on the date they enrolled in kindergarten, about 15 children did not technically have spots at Sierra View as of Aug. 20 and were being taught by a temporary teacher. While Academics Plus—a popular program in which students are taught with a traditional, back-to-basics approach—has three first-grade classes this year, there was only one for the “neighborhood” kids.

Stephenson said he didn’t know if the district would keep the temporary teacher who’s currently leading the class or bring in someone else.

Holmes said he would have pulled Taylor out altogether and sued rather than allow her to be bused.

Sierra View has the highest test scores in the district, a marker parents often look to when deciding where to send their children.

The concerned parents stressed that they have nothing against Academics Plus. “But A+ is the priority at that school, which is ridiculous, because it is our neighborhood school,” Smith said. “My kid has more of a right to go to that school than a kid who lives in a different district [boundary] and transfers in to go to that program.”

Smith, a single mother, moved to Chico from Sacramento last year and was considering quitting her job and breaking her lease to go back. She said other parents were "looking at private schools or home schooling."