Lane Cluster Program sees transportation improvements, but issues still remain


Ruby Thompson

CPS buses waiting in the parking lot, a few minutes after school lets out.

By Ruby Thompson, Managing Editor

During the 2021-22 school year, students in Lane’s Cluster Program would often have to wait at school for 45 minutes to an hour before their serviced bus arrived to take them home.

“Last year, transportation was probably the worst it’s ever been in my six years here,” said Nicholas Arvanitakis, the acting Cluster Program Chair. 

The ongoing bus driver shortage hit CPS especially hard last year, with the district being short 500 bus drivers at the beginning of the school year, according to Block Club Chicago. 

“They had bus drivers doing more than one school or multiple routes, so they would have to finish their route before they came to Lane,” Arvanitakis said. “So sometimes we wouldn’t have students getting picked up till like, 4-4:15 on a daily basis.” 

This year CPS has decided to focus on providing transportation to special education students and homeless students first. Now, all students in the Cluster Program who utilize CPS transportation have been routed with aides on board and are out of the school parking lot 15 minutes after the end of the school day at the latest, according to Arvanitakis. 

The Lane Tech Cluster Program, a subset of the Diverse Learners Program, is a modified curriculum program at Lane which supports students with significant cognitive disabilities. By law, if a student requires transportation services in order to access special education, CPS is required to provide it. 

“Last year, we had a couple of students that were not able to attend school, partially because of COVID, partially because of transportation,” Arvanitakis said. “This year, all of our students are in attendance.” 

To help meet requests for transportation, CPS was able to hire 95 more bus drivers this year, though hundreds of positions remain vacant, according to Block Club Chicago. CPS is continuing to offer financial incentives as an option for parents to transport their own children, and 15 Cluster Program parents have opted for the $500 monthly stipend over CPS transportation.  

According to Arvanitakis, significantly fewer parents have to pick up and drop off their children this year. Sometimes when buses were absent in the morning last year, parents weren’t notified. Now, with more bus routes, parents’ schedules are less affected.

However, even though more parents now have the option to use CPS transportation, issues still remain in terms of it being accommodating and timely for all students. 

One parent, Felicia Walker, has a son in the program who hasn’t attended Lane since the beginning of the pandemic until now. But for his first year back, Walker told The Champion that she made the decision to self-transport after the first week of school because the bus company changed her son’s pickup time, which interfered with his medication and meant he would spend more time on the bus.

Walker’s son has a seizure disorder and needs to be given medication at a specific time every day. So, when the bus pickup changes, it affects the timeframe Walker has to give her son his medication. 

“At the end of the day, I can’t keep switching the medication,” Walker said, so she decided it would be best to self-transport to avoid any potential medical risks to changing the medication time.

The earlier pickup time would also mean spending more time on the bus, which Walker didn’t think was right, as Illinois School Code urges districts to limit travel times to an hour maximum for special education students whenever possible. 

“His pickup was supposed to have been at 6:30 and they changed it to 6:05, and school doesn’t start until 8 o’clock, so that’s too long for him to be sitting on the bus,” Walker said. “I know for a fact that no differently-abled students are supposed to be on the bus for more than 45 minutes to an hour.”

Walker said she was just brushed off when she spoke to the bus company to try and work out issues with the pickup time. 

“The bus companies, they’re responsible as well,” Walker said. “It’s like they do whatever [CPS] hires these people to do and they have nasty attitudes when you’re just trying to get answers to what’s going on.”