Richmond Heights student questions open enrollment without transportation

 Miyana Sanders has experienced first-hand the social and academic challenges of changing schools.
Miyana Sanders has experienced first-hand the social and academic challenges of changing schools. [Keith Freund / Ideastream Public Media]
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My friend Taelynn Lassiter just moved to another suburb pretty far away.

She still goes to Richmond Heights Secondary School for now. But that’s only because her parents drive her here every day.

There’s no school bus to bring her here, and using public transportation would take almost two hours each way because the suburb she moved to is in another county.

She doesn't think that's right.

"I don't want to go to a whole bunch of high schools," she told me. "I just want one school to stick with all my high school years and I've already done two years here," she said. "So I think transportation should be provided because I don't know how long my parents can keep driving me."

I can relate to what she’s saying. I came to Richmond Heights in sixth grade, left in eighth grade, then came back for 10th grade.

When I left here, I had a hard time adjusting to my new teachers and classes. Also, I had to keep meeting different people. I’m not good with people. Making new friends is hard for me.

That’s the other part of this story. Taelynn is my best friend. I can trust her. We go places together and talk on the phone. We could still do that if she changes schools, but it would be a lot harder.

Finding our own way

Richmond Heights is an open enrollment school. That means students from any other district in Ohio can come here, as long as they meet some basic requirements and there’s room in our classes.

It’s supposed to help kids and families pick the school that’s best for them. So I asked our principal, Marnisha Brown, what’s the point of having open enrollment at Richmond Heights if we can’t provide transportation for kids to get here?

She said schools are only required by law to transport students within district boundaries.

"If you attend a school that is located within the city you live in, the district is responsible for transportation, primarily elementary," Mrs. Brown said. "Most districts are not responsible for high school."

That was news to me: Schools don’t have to provide bus transportation for any high school kids, not even ones that live within their city.

Richmond Heights school buses
 Ohio law doesn't require school districts to transport students outside their boundaries. [Keith Freund /  Ideastream Public Media]

Mrs. Brown said a lot of the limitations on school transportation come down to funding.

"Transportation is paid for by the taxpayers of the city that the school resides in," she said. "So taxpayers are not going to be amenable to use their money to transport students that are outside of their district."

The challenge of consistency

I understand the funding obstacles. Still, I wondered how much open enrollment is really helping students if they can’t get where they want to go.

So I called Chad Aldis, who studies Ohio education policy for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

He worked on a study about how open enrollment actually plays out in schools.

"One of the things we saw is that a lot of students who open enrolled did not consistently open enroll," Aldis said.

In other words, he said, many open enrollment students only last for a year, or part of a year. Then they go back to school in the city where they live.

"And we did theorize that it might well be because of transportation issues and their inability to have consistent transportation that was affordable or free to get to and from school," he said.

Transportation is especially a challenge for families who don’t have the time or money to make the drive themselves, Aldis said.

I understand that transportation is expensive. Especially now, with high gas prices.

But I still think schools should do more to provide transportation for open enrollment students. Maybe there could be a small fee that parents pay to help cover the cost.

Something like that would help more kids stay where they already feel comfortable with their classes and teachers.

And it would mean Taelynn and I could keep seeing each other every day, like we have since seventh grade.

Miyana Sanders is a 10th grader at Richmond Heights Secondary School. She produced this story with Ideastream Public Media's Justin Glanville.

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