Tardy Stonington parents face fees

Stonington - About a dozen families have been affected during the past two weeks by a new policy that levies fees - as much as $35 - on parents who don't show up on time at bus stops to pick up their elementary schoolchildren on scheduled early dismissal days.

The most recent early dismissal occurred Thursday when parent-teacher conferences were scheduled, and two or three students were affected, according to Superintendent of Schools Van Riley. Last week, on another conference day, about 10 parents had to pay the fee, which ranges from $5 to $35 depending on how late a parent is.

Parents received an email reminding them about the policy on Wednesday afternoon.

Riley and school board Chairwoman Gail MacDonald said one student could cause a "domino effect" of lateness with the buses. Transporting students back to school if they were not picked up after a 1:10 p.m. early dismissal delays buses from getting to the high school for its 2 p.m. dismissal. That in turn delays the middle school buses.

MacDonald said Operations Manager Bill King told the board in the spring that 12 to 15 students had to be returned to school every time there was an early release, and the situation was not improving.

She said state law does not allow buses to drop off children without someone there to pick them up.

The new policy calls for students not picked up by a parent or guardian at the bus stop to be returned to the high school and then cared for by Stonington Human Services staff. The Human Services Department charges the parent a fee based on how long the child is in its care.

If a parent or guardian does not arrive after 90 minutes and cannot be reached via emergency contact numbers, police will be notified.

Riley said the procedure will be in affect only for scheduled early dismissals, such as for teacher conferences, which parents know about in advance. It does not apply to early releases caused by bad weather and emergencies. Riley said the policy will apply to only a few school days each year.

On Thursday, students at West Broad Street and West Vine Street schools were not released until about 1:40 p.m. because of chemical odor across the Pawcatuck River in Westerly that authorities there were investigating.

j.wojtas@theday.com

THE FEES

The school board has approved a policy this spring that allows Stonington Human Services staff to charge parents a fee based on how long their children are in its care:

1-9 minutes $5

10-15 minutes $10

16-30 minutes $15

31-60 minutes $25

61-90 minutes $35

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