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Wheels Turn on Transit Group

September 30, 2018

BILLERICA -- Following testimony from a concerned stepfather, the School Committee approved the creation of a working group to develop district-wide transportation policies.

“The target we’re going for is looking at the whole process and looking at what kind of policies we can put into place,” said parent Dan Lavoie, who spoke about his concerns with the current system before the School Committee this month.

As Lavoie tells it, Sept. 6 was the first day of school -- ever -- for his 5-year-old stepdaughter Mackenzie Finney.

After class, Mackenzie lined up for dismissal with the other Hajjar Elementary School students and, seeing some friends, wandered over to talk, according to Lavoie.

As her friends got on the bus to go home she joined them instead of attending an after-school program, Lavoie wrote in a letter to the School Committee.

“I guess she had a good time,” he said.

Lavoie and Mackenzie’s mother Crystal Lavoie, not so much.

The school called Mackenzie’s mother, notifying her they was trying to locate her daughter, according to Dan Lavoie.

“We had to race out of work on Thursday and try to understand how she got out there,” he said.

About 15 heart-pounding minutes later -- still driving to the school -- they received another phone call notifying them Mackenzie had been found, he said.

Lavoie said he discussed the incident and underlying issues regarding transportation with the district and later publicly at School Committee meetings this month. Both have been responsive, he said.

In a letter to the School Committee, Lavoie said there needs to be further clarification on bus tags for Billerica Elementary School students, a policy to standardize district procedures and an analysis of current end-of-day release procedures.

When asked by The Sun about Lavoie’s story, Superintendent Tim Piwowar said he could not comment on specific students.

Piwowar said “it makes sense” to roll the issues raised at the committee meeting where Lavoie spoke in with larger questions about district transportation, especially in light of redistricting efforts. Questions about the district’s transportation policy, particularly regarding bus stops were also raised last year, he said.

“The fact that we’re going through the redistricting process means we have to redo bus routes all over the town anyway, so the timing is perfect for this,” Piwowar said.

The School Committee voted 5-0 to create the working group at its Monday meeting. Piwowar said the scope of the working group is still being developed and he plans to put out a call to parents seeking members next week.

“I thought the father that came forward had some valid arguments and valid concerns,” said School Committee Chair Katie Mahoney, who said the committee also discussed the challenges of creating a district-wide policy.

Lavoie said he hopes to be part of the working group, as does School Committee member Darlene Torre.

Though the district has a transportation policy, there is no district-wide dismissal policy, which Torre said could be an objective of the working group.

Lavoie said he is also interested in discussing procedure for communication regarding transportation within the district and with parents.

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins

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