FORT MYERS - Lee County School buses will be going back inside gated communities until an alternative plan can be worked out, according to a memo the superintendent sent board members Thursday.
For weeks parents have told Fox 4 their kids are walking two miles to catch the bus only to wait on busy roads with no sidewalks.
The decision was announced shortly after 8 a.m. Thursday, two hours after board member Don Armstrong and Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant went to see one of the Fort Myers bus stops that parents have called unsafe.
It's 6:15 a.m. and pitch black on Daniels Parkway outside the Cross Creek Estates gated community. Student wait for the bus, on the side of the road, in the middle of morning rush hour.
"How do you feel about this bus stop?," asked Armstrong.
"I just think it's dumb," a student said. "How we have to be on this street with the cars speeding by."
"How safe do you feel?," asked Armstrong.
"Not very safe," the student said.
Armstrong visited the Cross Creek community on his way to work to evaluate the bus stop and talk with students.
"They all said the same thing," said Armstrong. "'We don't feel safe.'"
"Does that matter in your opinion?," asked Grant.
"Oh, that matters a lot," said Armstrong.
And it matters to a lot of parents. Fox 4 has heard complaints from at least eight communities, mostly private, after the district started enforcing a long ignored policy stating buses can't go into gated communities.
The policy makes an exception if nearby roads are dangerous.
At Tuesday's board meeting the battle over busing came to a fever pitch when more than 30 parents begged the district to move the stops back.
Armstrong admitted something needs to change.
"What if, Lord forbid, one of our students gets hurt at one of these stops?," asked Armstrong. "And we could have done something about it?"
After his visit to Cross Creek, Burke sent out a memo to board members saying: "I have instructed staff to make temporary accommodations to reestablish bus stops within the specific gated communities...adjusted this school year."
"Do you think parents will see change?," asked Grant.
"They're going to have to," said Armstrong.
Burke says he's going to convene a committee made up of representatives from law enforcement and transportation officials to evaluate the district's bus stop policy when it comes to gated communities.
The district plans to temporarily change the routes back by next Thursday.
"The safety of children...is paramount and determinations for bus stops should be made without regard for a gate on a hinge," said Sheriff Mike Scott in a statement. "I believe that stops should be positioned as though the gate was not there."
Burke's decision to move the stops back to where they were comes just two days after the board voted that down in a three-two vote Tuesday.
Board member Tom Scott was the only one to vote against it. Armstrong couldn't attend the meeting due to surgery.
While the move is temporary, the board is expected to vote on potential compromise stops at their Sept. 11 board meeting.