The Newberry City Commission is looking for ways to help families get students to school after Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) announced plans to cancel courtesy bus routes starting in January.
As parents look at the possibility of their children walking to school, several have reached out to Mayor Jordan Marlowe—who is also a teacher—often about sidewalks and hazardous walking conditions which could result in busing exceptions. One parent, however, had a concern about students walking past sexual offenders’ homes on their way to school.
The parent asked Marlowe to compare Newberry’s sex offender ordinance with that of Williston, and the mayor passed the request to staff so the commission could discuss it.
Currently, Newberry’s code does not allow sexual offenders to reside within 1,000 feet, and predators 1,500 feet, of a state-defined “protected place,” defined to be schools, childcare facilities, parks, playgrounds and any other gathering place for children.
The city of Williston limits both to live 2,500 feet away from protected places, while state statute limits both sexual offenders and predators to a minimum of 1,000 feet from protected places.
Newberry staff identified 14 protected places in the city limits, though Bryan Thomas, director of planning and economic development, noted that there may be other small parks and playgrounds not included in the list. The known protected areas in Newberry include:
- Newberry Elementary School
- Oak View Middle School
- Newberry High School
- Greenfield Daycare East
- Greenfield Daycare West
- I Rise Performing Kids Academy
- Easton Newberry Sports Complex
- Lois Forte Park
- Jimmy Durden Park
- Freddie Warmack Park
- Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center
- Champions Park
- Newberry Corners Playground
- Newberry Place Playground
After meeting with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), Newberry staff learned there are 21 levels of sexual offenders, only five of which are required to comply with state residency radius restrictions.
Staff also asked the city attorney’s office about enacting a more restrictive code than the state’s, looking specifically at Williston’s code for reference. The attorney’s office advised that, while a stricter code would be allowable, it may not be enforceable because the state will not prosecute a local ordinance that is not also a violation of state law, unless the city enters into an agreement with the state prosecutor.
Staff recommended mirroring state statutes if any changes are made, and Marlowe added that he would like some research into how Williston makes its stricter ordinances work. Thomas pointed out that while Williston has a police department and Newberry relies on the ACSO to enforce its code, enforcement would still require an agreement with the state prosecutor.
Commissioner Mark Clark said with no way to enforce a stricter code, the problem lies in children being asked to walk up to two miles to school. Other commissioners agreed.
Marlowe suggested a meeting with the School Board of Alachua County (SBAC) or Superintendent Shane Andrew could be beneficial for the two governing bodies to get an understanding of each other’s needs.
“I completely understand, this is an attempt to get the regular bus routes on something like a bus route schedule that you can depend on,” Marlowe said. “However, I think because those [courtesy routes] have always been in place, we have approved neighborhoods without sidewalks to get downtown… now they’re not there.”
Though the commission discussed briefly the possibility of the city providing school transportation, several commissioners brought up questions of legality, and Marlowe said it is a bad idea to begin providing a service that cannot be maintained indefinitely.
Commissioner Tim Marden pointed out that many people within the two-mile radius already drive their own children to school instead of relying on buses, so the removal of courtesy busing may not affect as many students as some think.
Across the district, ACPS currently services about 1,100 courtesy riders, according to Transportation Director Dontarrius Rowls.
The state only requires districts to provide transportation to students who live more than two miles from their zoned school, but SBAC board policy 5120.03 allows the superintendent to authorize courtesy transportation to those inside the two-mile walk-out zone if there is space available on an existing route.
To help combat ongoing bus driver shortages and chronically late buses, Rowls recommended cutting courtesy bus routes for the district, except for the highest-need elementary schools and for students whose walking routes are hazardous.