Parents of Medford students who attend Minuteman Regional High School accused Superintendent Roy Belson of exposing their children to bullying, and bullying, himself, during Monday's Medford School Committee meeting.
Medford Public Schools used to provide a bus exculsively for transportation to and from Minuteman, but that stopped this year in a cost-cutting move. Since Minuteman's first day on Aug. 27, a bus takes students to Minuteman about 6:30 a.m., returns to Medford to run Elementary school pick-ups and drop-offs, and returns to Minuteman about 3:30 p.m. to bring students back to Medford. But that leaves students at the school with about an hour between school's end and the bus arriving.
During Monday's meeting, several parents accused Belson -- who previously cited a combination of rising transportation costs and increases in costs payed to Minuteman as reasons for consolidating buses -- of putting children in the middle of bargaining.
"For the past two weeks the Medford students who ride the bus to Minuteman have been the victims of bullying," parent Angela Moore said Monday. "...We are astonished that such animosity is allowed to dictate our school system."
Before instituting the current plan, Belson had previously called for funding for the Minuteman bus to be cut entirely and replace it with MBTA passes for students. On Monday, he admitted those initial plans were partly made in an effort to bring attention to what he views as issues with funding for the school.
"We needed something to get people to be really interested in what was going on," Belson said.
Medford Public Schools pick up a portion of the tuition cost for Minuteman students who live in Medford. The district will pay over $1 million to the public regional school this year, with the cost per pupil going up $3,800 from last year, Belson said.
Days before the start of school, an agreement was reached where Minuteman would provide the return bus service for Medford students by adding on to the bus that runs to Arlington, Belson said. But the regional school backed out of that agreement when they learned they wouldn't receive as much transportation reimbursement from the state as they expected, he said.
On Monday, Belson defended his decision to cut the bus, a move he said saves the district about $60,000 and has approval of the state's Department of Education.
"Reality tells us that we have to do something to recapture our cost if we aren’t going to take away from students who stay in Medford," Belson said.
The bus arrives at Minuteman at 3:30 p.m. for pick-up everyday except Wednesday, when it arrives at 2:30 p.m., since Medford elementary schools have early release that day, Belson said. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Minuteman offers help time with teachers for an hour after school, he said, leaving only Monday and Friday as days without structure for the hour.
"I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our students getting afterschool help," he said.
But Patricia Flynn, a Medford resident and parent of a Minuteman student, said that time leaves her son and other students vulnerable to bullying.
"This is not an inconvenience, this is an attack on a child’s education," she said Monday. "This is unsafe."
Belson said he disagreed that the students were unsafe, and if bullying occurred it should be handled by Minuteman.
"If they are being bullied in the Minuteman environment, then what is Minuteman doing about it?" he said.
Mayor Michael McGlynn, chairman of the school committee, said he would to review the matter with the city's procurement and finance offices and Belson would have to discuss the matter further with both Minuteman and the city's bus provider.
"I thought it was a little better than I’m finding out tonight," he said Monday, "but it’s not going to get solved tonight."
School Committee Member Erin DiBenedetto suggested holding an emergency committee of the whole meeting to address the matter, but Belson disagreed. Better progress would be made behind closed doors, he said.
"Letting a bunch of people vent, that might be a good exersise, but it’s not going to get you very far," he said.