School Committee Patty Nolan and Marc McGovern support a bus plan supporting students who take classes outside Cambridge and take part in sports teams back in the city. (Photo: Liv Rachelle Gold)

For the handful of Cambridge students attending classes outside the district, getting to athletics events or other extracurriculars on time can be hard and tiring. The School Committee took steps Tuesday to make it easier.

While the out-of-district learners have learning disabilities requiring teaching elsewhere, some are also be on varsity sports teams, and committee member Marc McGovern finds that heroic.

It’s a blow, then, if they can’t get to games.

“We have a legal responsibility to get students from door to door,” he said later by telephone. “I would say we have a moral responsibility as well.”

The vote did not go as far as McGovern and others, such as Patty Nolan, hoped it would. They proposed an amendment that would have allowed bus drivers to drop students off at official school events or with a designated guardian — a friend of a parent, teacher or coach.

That raised legal and logistical concerns, though, with district officials wondering what would happen if one day a coach couldn’t meet a student getting off the bus — a fear raised by coaches themselves, Superintendent Jeffrey Young said.

“We do have concerns around liability,” Young said. “We also note there is not another school system in the commonwealth that provides this service — and that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t provide this service, but just to put it in context.”

The service will not add any expense to the district, Young said.

When the committee votes on this minor expansion of busing at its next meeting, May 18, it will be considering a motion a step back from what McGovern and Nolan wanted. Instead of allowing student drop-offs at any location hosting a Cambridge Public Schools event or with people designated at guardians, the motion will add Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, the district’s only high school, as a drop-off point. Students can currently be let off only at their out-of-district schools or home bus stop.

In the real-life example of a student and ice skater who is no longer in the district, McGovern had a response to liability fears as well as to the need for a busing expansion. “She was being dropped off at her home, over a mile from the skating rink, and had to walk it with her equipment. That’s just as dangerous as being dropped off at the rink. I’d feel just as bad if we dropped her off at home and something happened as if we dropped her off at an event and something happened,” he said.

Nolan’s children walked home from the bus stop from the third grade onward, “and we’re talking about high school kids,” she said. “These are kids 14 and over whose parents are willing to sign a waiver.”

Fred Fantini spoke for the majority, though, in preferring a compromise that could be revised — or, as was noted, taken back completely — as the committee felt was necessary.

The issue was first raised in the committee about a year ago.

Holiday delayed

In other committee news, the committee agreed Tuesday to delay adding the Muslim holiday Eid to the school calendar. (There are two Eid holidays, either one of which could be a recognized day off from school depending on when they are celebrated in a given year.)

While members hoped to avoid further delay on the proposal — the suggestion of a recognized school holiday was brought forward by students in 2006 — a report from Young convinced them the time wasn’t right for implementation.

“I have talked to all the collective bargaining units and determined, how shall I say this, there is greater acceptance among some than others,” the superintendent said. “There is more work needed before a final decision can be made.”
He recommended not changing the 2010-11 school calendar, and McGovern spoke for the committee in looking regretfully instead to the year after.

Committee members voted unanimously Jan. 5 to approve an Eid holiday.