U-32 Athletic Transportation Controversy

This article was written by journalism students Josie Haley and Elly Budliger

 

“[As administrators] we have to think about, Are you safe? Are you supported? Are you supervised?” shared Amy Molina former Athletic Director and current Assistant Principal. These are questions that guide U-32’s policies around student transportation. However, some students feel that policies following these ideals can be restrictive. 

 

The U-32 Student-Athlete Handbook states, “If transportation is provided all team members will ride the bus to and from the game.” There are two exceptions to this rule. A student can be brought home by a parent or guardian with direct permission from a coach. Or, a parent can send a request ahead of time if a student is going to/from a game by other means. The parents request must be approved by the coach before the game. 

 

Derek Dunning, the current Athletic Director at U-32 said, “It’s hard to try to offer as many sports as we do, have as many events as we do, and try to balance the schedule.” Offerings are directly affected by transportation, especially sports that can only be conducted off-campus, such as U-32’s alpine program. 

 

The Alpine program practiced this season at Bolton Valley ski and ride resort multiple times a week. For the team, student driving policies have not been enforced in years past, or have simply been ignored. “I’ve been driving students [to alpine events] for two years, and it was never an issue,” shared Senior Eliza Gilbert, a prominent team member.

 

It wasn’t until this 2023-2024 season the administration put a foot down and addressed the alpine teams’ trips to the mountain, primarily for races that occur during school hours. “The administration, including myself, is responsible for students from 7:30 am to 3:00 pm,” Derek said. Transportation by students, especially with other students, cannot occur in relation to school-sponsored events, especially not during school hours. 

 

Amy clarified this policy, “As a school system we have a general policy that says that once you arrive [to school] we’re responsible for you until we hand you back off to your parents.” Some students may feel that this is frustrating, but she continued, “That could either be you have permission from your parents to drive yourself or you could get on a bus, etc.”

 

The recent enforcement of the school policy required the Alpine team to rework their transportation methods. No longer can trusted upperclassmen drive their teammates. Instead, coaches and parents have to take the lead. “It makes it really difficult to get to the mountain because they don’t give us a bus,” shared team member Amelia Dubois. 

 

Why no bus for the Alpine team? “When we don’t have busing available, which happens a lot because of the driver shortages with the bus company [First Student] which I have next to no control over, I have to find another solution,” Derek explains. Other options include coaches driving school-provided vans or parents driving their personal vehicles.

 

Unfortunately, these school-provided vans come with their own host of restrictions. These vans can only have five students in them at a time. “It’s actually illegal to take 15-passenger vans now. That’s because of so many accidents, after athletics,” said Amy. 

 

Without buses and 15-passenger vans, parents need to step in, and this isn’t always an option. “If we can’t fit everyone in the coach’s car, then a parent needs to come, which majorly affects their day,” said Eliza. Additionally, there is always the option for upperclassmen with driver’s licenses to drive themselves independently with parental permission.

Buses Ready to Transport Students (Elly Budliger/ U32 Chronicle)

 

This option has proved a struggle, “It just made all of the details of figuring stuff out a lot harder, because I was having to drive myself up there and I was using so much gas,” said Amelia. “I just didn’t get why we couldn’t get a bus or drive together.”

 

As for the underclassmen without this option altogether, or upperclassmen without a vehicle available, their ability to participate in the sport is restricted. “[This policy] is going to limit people from participating in sports just because they can’t get themselves there,” concluded Amelia.

 

What’s the rationale behind these policies? The driving factor of these decisions stems from liability. Steven Dellinger-Pate, the principal of U-32 explained, “We have a liability for students when we are responsible for them. So that [student-athlete transportation] is different than coming to school where we’re not responsible until you arrive.”

 

“There’s a whole bunch of different legal terms, but basically, your parents believe that we are responsible for you, and we have to be,” Amy said. Given this responsibility of safety, Amy believes some situations must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For example, “I would evaluate something like: the hockey team has practice at the bottom of the hill, 18 kids without driver’s licenses walking down the hill with big hockey bags,” is not necessarily safe.

 

In this scenario, the school understands some students will get a lift to the rink [Central Vermont Civic Center] and others will find different arrangements. Derek responds, “I work with the administration on how we make sure our students are safe and getting a place to place appropriately.” There is a constant revaluation of student safety. 

 

Situations the admin hopes to avoid are often the topics of teacher/staff training. In Amy’s first year as the Athletic Director at U-32 she shared, “I took a class called Legal Issues in Sports. I literally almost quit.” The course taught her about, “so many things that hopefully never happen here, but could.” 

 

Amy provided an example from a different school in which a team practice had ended at 4:30 pm and the team head coach left at 4:40 pm. After the coach’s departure, a fight broke out between two of the athletes and one of the athletes died. The coach of the team, along with the athletic director, were deemed liable. 

 

“It’s stuff that you may not think about…it is not trying to be a pain in the neck, not trying to get in the way, not trying to be difficult. But coming from a place of two things. Is everybody safe that’s in our charge? And, I don’t want to be sued,” said Amy. “Unfortunately in today’s day in age, I have to think about that.” 

 

How will our community move forward? “I know the Alpine team is our biggest struggle because some of their events occur during the day…I would love to find a better solution,” said Derek. 

 

It is incredibly important to continue offering extracurricular activities while also promoting safety. Factors such as van requirements, busing availability, and money make this situation near impossible. Luckily all of their actions, as Amy shares, are “coming from a place of care for students.”

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