Parents and students gathered in south San Diego County Tuesday to protest cuts to school bus routes in the area, mainly routes to San Ysidro High School.
At 9 a.m., a group of about 30 people marched several miles from Willow Elementary School at 226 Willow Rd. to San Ysidro High School at 5353 Airway Rd. to demonstrate how lengthy that walk is.
The families held signs that read, “We want buses for our students. Stop school cutbacks,” during the peaceful protest.
Once the group arrived at San Ysidro High School, some parents kneeled in front of the entrance to the campus, begging school officials not to cancel the bus routes. The police were called; officers arrived a short time later and, by that time, the demonstration wrapped up peacefully.
The march was in response to an announcement made by the cash-strapped Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) in mid-May about cutting bus service to some students at four area high schools.
To save money, the SUHSD said it planned to eliminate dozens of bus stops for the 2019-2020 school year serving Eastlake High School, Olympian High School, Otay Ranch High School and San Ysidro High School.
Eastlake and Olympian will lose four bus stops and Otay Ranch will lose one. San Ysidro High School, however, will lose 20 bus stops.
Manny Rubio, spokesperson for the SUHSD, said Tuesday that, at this point, the district just can’t afford to keep those bus routes running.
"Unfortunately, we’re at a place now where we can’t offer additional transportation," he told NBC 7.
Rubio said the bus stops were a necessary cut, especially after the long-awaited construction and completion of safer sidewalks on Otay Mesa Road, the main path to San Ysidro High School. With that safer path now in place, Rubio said the district can eliminate some of the bus stops.
District officials said the stops were selected according to the district transportation requirement that a bus stop be located farther than 3.5 miles from the school. The district said the bus route cuts would not impact students with special needs, and middle school bus routes would remain unchanged.
Demonstrators, including San Ysidro High School senior Paul Downey, said the group marched in the dead heat of summer – uphill – to show just how important the bus routes are in their community.
"We feel like it’s unfair, so we’re showing them how difficult this walk is," Downey told NBC 7. "We need buses."
The student said the bus stops will be missed by many.
"In my neighborhood, there were four to five buses that came every day and each of those days those buses were filled with students," he explained.
Mother Fernanda Osorñio marched on behalf of her son.
"It’s hard," she lamented. "I’m sad, mad, disappointed."
Although Tuesday’s march is over, Downey said the climb for students is not.
He said a lot of students are prepared to stage a school walk-out if their voices are not heard. That type of protest could cost the district roughly $200 per absent student, per day.
Rubio said that’s not the right solution, and will further hurt the SUHSD’s tight budget.
"Holding a student out for whatever reason is really a detriment and it hurts us even further," he explained.
Tuesday’s march ended with a moment of silence at the offices at San Ysidro High School, but Downey promised students won’t accept the bus route cuts quietly.
"If we don’t win, we keep fighting," the senior said. "We’re not going to lose; that’s just it. We need these buses."
The new school year in this part of the county starts in less than a week.
The SUHSD has had to slash roughly $19 million from its budget following several shortfalls and fiscal mismanagements. According to the district, eliminating the bus stops will save the district more than $536,000.