Over the last two weeks, I've grown worried that I have become a useful cliche. I'm a mother with two kids in a parochial school, Our Lady Queen of Peace, on Madison's West Side. The sedan in my garage sits alongside a beige minivan. My husband and I earn healthy incomes, we're happily married, and our children live a life that includes all the food, clothing and soccer they might need.
When you look at us, it's easy to conclude that the Madison School District's decision to cut bus service to private schools to save $200,000 a year is a sound choice. The cliche we compose might even make the cut look like a no-brainer.
But like nearly every conclusion based solely on stereotypes, it's dead wrong.
Lost in the discussion about the removal of bus service has been any recognition that this decision widens the economic chasm in this community.
Yes, my husband and I will find a way to afford to get our kids to school safely. However, many parents who choose to send their kids to parochial schools do not have that luxury.
They work multiple, changing or off-time shifts.
They are single parents.
They have no access to a car.
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They cannot afford private transportation services.
They are poor.
The two key issues at hand in this debate are student safety and religious freedom.
Children have the right to get to school without crossing dangerous intersections alone or encountering people who might harm them. Parents have the right to choose a parochial school for their kids.
The decision to end bus service effectively means that those parents who can afford to ferry their kids on their own to school get both safety and free exercise of religion.
Parents in poverty get neither.
This is yet another way that we expand the gap between us. This community simply cannot tolerate that expansion. It's time we move beyond stereotypes and into reality.
The School Board must reconsider this decision, and at a minimum, continue bus service for the 2007-08 school year. A one-year reprieve on the amputation of service would at least give the district and private schools a chance to collaborate on improving the efficiency of the current setup and analyzing the impact on low-income families.
It's one immediately identifiable way to prevent ourselves from increasing the distance between us at the expense of those least able to afford it. It's one, just one, way to keep the gap from widening.