The loss of bus service to a successful and highly competitive school in South Philadelphia brought parents, students, and the school band out to protest during Wednesday night's School Reform Commission meeting.
The Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP), which serves grades 5-12, will lose yellow bus service for its 500-plus students starting in the fall of next year. Younger students already enrolled will, however, retain service until they reach the 9th grade. Everyone else will move to using SEPTA TransPasses.
The yellow bus service to GAMP is an artifact of a longstanding desegregation case originally brought against the District some 40 years ago. GAMP, which draws students from all over the city, was among several themed magnet schools created in the 1970s to promote integrated schooling. Part of the court settlement, which changed many times over the years, mandated free busing to schools like GAMP. The case finally was terminated entirely in 2009, but some of the busing continued.
Facing severe budget constraints, the District has now decided to eliminate all of the busing. Officials said this could potentially save up to $1 million.
The loss of reliable busing could affect the safety of the students, according to the school's founding principal, Dr. Jack Carr. Placing students with expensive instruments on public transportation, he said, would make them targets of theft and violence.
One parent, Jerrold Hill, worried about the convoluted and potentially dangerous commute his son would have to take, instrument in hand, should the yellow bus service disappear. To get from their home in Andorra to GAMP, at 22nd and West Ritner Streets, his son would travel a maze-like commute using SEPTA buses, trains and treks on foot. This byzantine journey, Hill said, would begin at 5:30 in the morning, and the trip home would be just as difficult.
"He may as well take a sleeping bag to school and sleep over," Hill said.
Parent after parent praised GAMP for the high-quality education it offers and pleaded for the commission to take action.
Gwen Deveaux-Way, a grandparent of a GAMP student, expressed her understanding of the severity of the budget shortfall, but said she felt the School District should still be accommodating.
"We understand the budget constraints -- families are experiencing the same kind of constraints," she said. "Please allow my grandson a seat on the bus. Do not throw him under the bus."