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Students Organize Protest

Los Angeles Sentinel, News Report, Errica Dotson Posted: Apr 06, 2009

On Tuesday, Westchester High School students organized a Student Press Conference and Speak Out to voice their discontent with the MTA bus system, urging them to improve educational access for Los Angeles County students and to urge support from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to use funds from Los Angeles County Measure R to expand the current bus route of Line 115 and reverse the 2007 fare increase.

Student members of a campus organization called Voices of Students Taking Action and the Bus Riders Union banded together to highlight several issues that have prevented students from coming to school on time and unfortunately for some, not at all.

The MTA Line 115, which runs along Manchester Avenue, is the only bus that drops students off in front of the school. However, during the hours of 6:30am and 8:00am, 13 out of the 16 buses that travel this route stop at Sepulveda Avenue, which is 1.74 miles away from Westchester High School. This forces students to either make this long walk or to transfer to the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus. After spending additional time in travel and another 50 cents on this transfer, students are dropped off at Lincoln Avenue, which is just under a mile away from campus. By the time they reach campus, students have already missed the first bell and are officially late to campus. And in keeping with LA's daytime curfew law, they are greeted by a truancy officer and given $250 tickets.

"These are students who actually show up to school that are being served with these fines," commented Lisa Adler of the Bus Riders Union. "These tickets make for bigger problems for these students...they have to pay large tickets that they cannot afford or have their parents take a day off work to go to court with them...why fine students for a faulty bus system? We wouldn't fine a teacher for being late to work." Adler has also been alerted that some students choose not to come to school if they know they are going to be late to avoid the frustration and the huge fine.

The Bus Riders Union has worked tirelessly alongside these students, advocating for service expansion and the reversal of the 2007 fare increase. "This would be the best stimulus plan for these families...getting money back into their pockets," Adler continued. More than 80% of LAUSD students are Title 1, living at or below the poverty line. It's almost like these students are being double taxed and fined the most."

The Los Angeles County Measure R will bring $40 billion to MTA over the next 30 years, and 20% of that is allocated for the bus system. However there is no real plan in place to improve the quality of bus service. In March, MTA released a plan for use of the funds, but it was inadequate at best due to the lack of public input, timelines and no concrete plan of action. The Bus Riders Union responded immediately in a letter sent to the Mayor and every member of the MTA board challenging the lack of substance and clarity. The Union has yet to hear a response.

17-year-old student Chinyere Garner, president elect of the Voices of Students Taking Action, has been affected by this faulty bus system. "I have rode the 115 since 9th grade and having to change buses and arrive to school late is very frustrating. But its time that we make our voices heard."

At the end of the rally, students took out their cell phones and called Mayor Villaraigosa's office to enlist his support. "I called his office and I spoke to his secretary, who was very happy to hear from us. But I really wanted to talk to him because I wanted to let him know that we believe adding more buses would be more effective than giving people tickets," commented Garner.

Bus Riders Union members met with the Mayor's office on yesterday to further explain their case and to solicit their support in expanding the route for Westchester High School students and decreasing their fare, so that dedicated students can get to class safely and on time.

Related Articles:

New UC Admission Policy Will Diminish Asian Student Population

School Matters: Putting an Accent on Latino Students Needs

School Matters: From Sisyphus to Prometheus, California's Education Challenge

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