By Bob Skolnik
A change in the Metra schedule has caused morning headaches for some train-riding parents of elementary school age children.
This summer Metra changed the schedule on its BNSF line and eliminated the train that stopped in downtown Riverside at 8:16 a.m. It was popular with parents of elementary school kids, especially those whose children attend Central School in Riverside.
Central School is just a five-minute walk from the Riverside train station, so parents used to be able to drop their kids off around the time the first bell rang at 8:05 a.m. and still have plenty of time to stroll over to the train station to catch the 8:16 train.
Now the only Chicago-bound trains stop in Riverside at 7:55 a.m. and at 8:25 a.m., and that has put some parents in a pickle.
To make the 7:55 train they have to leave their kids at Central for about 10 minutes before adult supervision outside the school starts. Some don't want to do that, so they take the 8:25 a.m. train, which pulls into Union Station until 8:51 and can result in people being late for work.
As a result, a few parents, about 10 according to Central School Principal Pete Gatz, have asked if the school could begin adult supervision outside Central School at 7:45.
"I do not want my children left in front of the school for 10-15 minutes alone without any staff supervision," said Kari Fisch, the mother of a Central School fourth-grader and first-grader.
Students are typically allowed to enter Central and other District 96 elementary schools at 8:05 a.m. but some staff members receive a stipend to provide supervision outside the schools from around the schools starting at 7:55 a.m.
School officials say the lack of adult supervision outside the school before 7:55 seems to be a problem for only a few parents and that a before-school care program is available at all District 96 schools, which parents could use.
"I think we have some very nice options because of the before and after care, and we will monitor it," said District 96 Superintendent Marth Ryan-Toye.
However, some of the parents who want the staff supervision to start 10 minutes earlier say that they shouldn't have to pay the roughly $5 a day per student cost for the before school care program for what would be just a few minutes of supervision.
"For me to pay 200 bucks a month for somebody to watch my kids for five minutes each morning, I don't know, that's a tough one to swallow," said Umer Ahmed, the father of two Central School students, a first-grader and a fourth-grader.
So, this year Ahmed has been bringing his kids to Central at around 8 and then taking the 8:25 train downtown.
Fisch said that it is not so much the cost of the before-care program that is bothering her. She said it is a bit of working-parent guilt.
"I don't want to drop them off at 7:45 and have them be in before care for half an hour, be at school all day and then be in after care for three hours," Fisch said.
Gatz said that at 7:55 a.m. about 10 staff members, all of whom receive stipends for the extra work, are stationed outside the school to provide supervision until the school day starts at 8:15.
Could those staff members be paid a little more to provide supervision 10 minutes earlier starting at 7:45 which would allow parents to catch the 7:55 train?
"That's an option," Ryan-Toye said. "That's one of the things we have talked about, and we will continue to consider that as an option. But with Riverside Parks and Rec already having the programming in place, our suggestion to families would be to enroll in the program."
If the cost is a burden, Ryan-Toye noted that the Riverside Parks and Recreation Department does have scholarships available.
Fisch said she would be happy to contribute to increasing the stipend for 10 extra minutes of supervision.
"I'd be more than happy to make a donation to pay the stipend for the rest of the year," Fisch said. "I can't imagine 10 minutes extra would be that much."
Gatz said that in cases of bad weather he will let kids in the school before 8:05.
"If it's raining outside and we have kids standing outside the doors, I don't sit there and wave and look at my watch," Gatz said. "We certainly get the kids in here if it's raining, and we have protocols to have kids wait inside if the weather is really, really cold."
Gatz encouraged parents who need to leave their kids before 7:55 to consider working out arrangements with other Central School parents who have the time to stay with children until 7:55.
"I also encourage the parents to talk to neighbors and seek out options from parents who live right around them," Gatz said.