Florin High School graduates

Florin High School graduates (from left): Naveena Ujagar, Rohan Singh, and Janny Her advocated busing for their school two years ago.

The Elk Grove school board last month approved funding to restore busing for Florin High School.

This move comes two years after a Florin student club alerted them to challenges that many of their classmates faced when they walked to school and went home in the Florin region.

They recalled stories of unreliable Regional Transit buses, working parents unable to transport their children, strangers harassing students, long walking distances, and roadside hazards such as syringes.

This club, called the Social Justice and Equity Collective, cited these reasons to explain why many students arrived to school late. They also noted their school lacks busing while students in distant, affluent communities such as Rancho Murieta were offered busing to Pleasant Grove High.

“The only obstacles and tribulations that the students need to overcome should be academic and within the classroom,” student Tim Arceneaux told the school board during their June 14, 2016 meeting. “It should not be issues with safety on the way to school.”

The school board during their Aug. 8 special meeting approved $250,000 in funding to hire three full-time employees in order to restore busing for Florin High.

“This is a nominal cost that will impact an area that’s truly in great need,” Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen said.

Florin Principal Denise Escobar said she’s pleased with what’s to come.

“We’re thrilled it will have a very positive impact on the campus,” she said.

Many of the students who spoke to the school board in 2016 are now in college.

“I’m so proud of them and the young people they are becoming,” said Tracey Williams-Anderson, a Florin High language arts teacher and club advisor.

Three former club members spoke to the Citizen in the classroom of Ruben Gonzalez, a language arts teacher and advisor to the Social Justice and Equity Collective.

“It feels surreal, because it’s taken so long and we’ve already graduated,” said Naveena Ujagar, who is a biomedical engineering major at UC Davis. “It felt like it wasn’t going to happen, it felt like it was going to get stalled out.”

Singh, a fellow club member and now an English major at UC Davis, shared her frustration by the slow action.

“If you have people working on the school board, you assume they have the best intentions in mind for all students, but it never really felt like some of the intentions were for the benefit of all students,” he said. “Most people would say, ‘Oh God, kids walk by syringes? That needs to change.”

Like many local schools, Florin High had its busing services eliminated during the recession 10 years ago. Only disabled students received busing, as required for all schools.

Florin High’s social justice club began focusing on bringing buses back to their school when many students were sent to detention for being late for their first period classes.

 “It was because students didn’t have rides to school,” said Janny Her, a biology major at Cosumnes River College. “Then we started looking at why they didn’t, and then we looked at why we didn’t get buses. We got really into it.”

They spent several months researching the issue and interviewing classmates. Club members even stayed at school until the early evening on Fridays to work on their project.

“You don’t think of high school students doing this,” Her said about the dedication.

Escobar told the Citizen that many students live north of Florin Road and they have to cross busy Stockton Boulevard in order to get to school.

“Our families live quite far north, and transportation is not easy and accessible,” she said.

More than 94 percent of Florin High students came from low-income families in the 2016-17 school year, according to a district report.

After the social justice club spoke to the school board in 2016, district staff told them that Florin High had the lowest daily attendance among the district’s nine comprehensive high schools.

District administrators later that year reviewed the Florin region’s safety issue as well as the district’s busing policy. Plans were to present a busing proposal to the school board this spring.

“Nothing has happened so far,” Gonzalez told the school board on Aug. 8. “All we are asking you to do is address this equity issue.”

Robert Brewer, a Florin High math teacher and advisor to the social justice club, urged them to take action.  

“This is about good intentions, but don’t leave it in your trunk,” he said. “Don’t leave this for three years or four years.”

The district staff will now start hiring new bus drivers as well as notifying parents and students about the future busing.

Robert Pierce, the district’s associate superintendent of facilities and planning, told the school board on Aug. 8 that the district still has a shortage of bus drivers.

“We frankly can’t hire enough bus drivers for the existing routes we have,” he said. “That’s not an excuse, that’s a fact.”

District spokesperson Xanthi Pinkerton told the Citizen that more than 500 people responded to the district’s call for drivers.

“Our goal is to have active routes with dedicated bus drivers in the Florin region as soon as possible,” she said.