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Think the ride is fun? Take the bus, parents urge

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Mount Rogers parents challenge Grayson School Board members to spend hours on bus, as their children must.

By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Parents in the Mount Rogers community have challenged Grayson County School Board members to put themselves in their children's shoes and see just how fun a bus ride from Mount Rogers to Independence really is.
Sherry Perry, a teacher in the county, came to the board during its regular meeting earlier this month as a parent, instead of an educator.
Perry had four points to discuss, one of which was that she was personally concerned about the amount of time her children had to spend on the school buses each day.
Her children are picked up around 6:40 a.m. and arrive at the high school in Independence around 8:10 a.m. — a 90-minute ride on some curvy and dangerous roads.
Because of the long rides in the morning and afternoon, Perry said that many students in the community are planning to go across the county line to schools in Washington County.
Perry said Washington County runs three buses to the county line in Whitetop in Grayson County and they can pick students up at 7:20 a.m. and have them home around 4 p.m., earlier than they would arrive from schools in Independence.
“I’d like for you to look at the bus routes and see if we can shorten [that time] so our kids don’t [leave the county],” she said.
Another way Perry felt the board could keep students in Grayson was to run the activity bus to the Whitetop community.
Last year, Perry’s son made the basketball team and she said she “run myself silly” trying to get him to and home from practice.
“It would be an incentive to run it up that way if a student makes the team,” she said, noting that the area had some “good athletes” that would like to play on the high school teams.
Perry’s final topic she wanted to discuss with the board was for it to reconsider closing Mount Rogers Combined School.
“Just consider this: it’s a 35-minute drive just to get to Grayson Highlands School [in the Grant community] from Whitetop,” she said. “It takes another 25 minutes or so from the new school to Independence. That’s about an hour car drive… I believe that’s just too far for any child to have to go for school.”
While the distance is only 37 miles, everyone knows of the “horrendous” roads the buses must travel on to go that distance, she said.
Perry challenged the board to “get on the bus and make the ride yourself and see what you think… It’s easy to sit here and say ‘we’re closing it,’ but if your child had to make that ride every day, you may think the other way.”
James Hayes also addressed the board, and echoed what Perry said. He pointed out that the Mount Rogers community lost one school, gained a new one last year, then lost the high school core classes there.
(The school board voted last month to remove the core classes at Grayson Highlands School to save a significant amount of money and close the gap on a tight budget.)
Hayes added that the purpose of closing Mount Rogers Combined School was because the new school would have core classes so that students didn’t have to travel all the way into Independence.
“It’s been jerked away again,” Hayes said referring to the opportunity for students to attend high school on the western end of the county. “All the cuts you hear are always on the western end of the county. Nothing gets cut except Grayson Highlands School.”
Hayes continued to say that the high school in Independence continues to be overcrowded, yet the school system is now adding additional students to that building by ending high school classes at Grayson Highlands.
“Those kids would’ve liked to have attended high school up there, but they didn’t have a choice or a voice in it,” Hayes said. “It’s not fair to those youngins.”
Now, the school system will have an $18 million school that has an entire section vacant.
“I don’t know what is so special about Grayson County High School” that the western end of the county can’t have its own school, he told the board. “Grayson County is big enough to have two high schools.”
Hayes then added a comment that has been heard numerous times in both school board and board of supervisor meetings — that Grayson County stops at Mouth of Wilson, suggesting that residents who live west of that community are not as important as other citizens of the county.
“Go ride that bus,” Hayes challenged. “Ride the school bus route. All we are asking is to keep the high school classes back where they belong and let those kids get an education.”
No further public comments were heard during the meeting.