Metra schedule has some school parents scrambling

Either leave kids outside, unsupervised or risk being late for work

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By Bob Skolnik

Contributing Reporter

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.

Reader Comments

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Brian Raymond  

Posted: September 11th, 2018 3:22 PM

Actually the Forest Park blue line stop is 5-10 minutes straight down Desplaines and the typical transit time to the loop is 25 minutes. 60 minutes to O'Hare.

April Starr  

Posted: September 7th, 2018 5:07 PM

Regina-how is the El 5 minutes from Central? Is there a secret El train I don't know about? Also, the Metra takes 20 minutes and the El 60+. So that doesn't get us to work on time.

Regina Felange  

Posted: September 6th, 2018 4:54 PM

Have these parents considered taking the El? It's about 5 minutes from Central, runs every 10 minutes or less and gets you closer to your location downtown than Union Station. Plus it's the beginning/end of the line at DesPlaines and Congress with plenty of parking.

April Starr from Riverside  

Posted: September 5th, 2018 7:12 PM

It's way more than 10 parents. Maybe district 96 should survey the parents to get an exact count. There has been zero outreach about this issue from the school. The before care program requires parents to park, go inside, sign their child in, turn around and go back over the tracks to park at the metra parking lot. All of which is a huge burden during drop off for Hauser and for only 5-10 minutes of supervision. Relying on neighbors is not a scalable solution. Please stop suggesting this. Maybe Hauser and Central could switch start times so that older kids who don't need supervision could start earlier and the elementary school kids could start later and it wouldn't be an issue anymore? People keep saying this is a financial issue and I really don't believe it is for the majority of people. We would all be happy to chip in and pay whoever provides supervision. It's a convenience issue. As a recently widowed, full time working, single parent, it's very difficult. I wish people had more empathy and less anger. It doesn't feel like the district really cares about finding a solution that is efficient for parents and safe for our children.

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