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      Pre-dawn bus schedule confuses, concerns Marlboro County parents

      Blenheim Elementary Middle School students at the bus stop around 6:10 a.m. Thursday morning

      New school bus schedules have seventh and eighth grade students at Blenheim Elementary Middle School at their bus stops around 5:45 in the morning as they wait for buses to arrive around 6:10 a.m.

      The bus arrived at a stop in Bennettsville around 6:07 a.m. Thursday morning.

      Some parents say the early pick up times are ridiculous.

      "It's frustrating. It's cutting off my sleep really. And he shouldn't have to get up this early," said Dena Peterkin.

      "As a parent, it puts the children at a clear disadvantage to have to get up this early. And on the same token, they're not getting home until 5:30, 6:00 in the afternoon," said Tim McNeil.

      Seventh and eighth grade students are being bused from Bennettsville to attend Blenheim Elementary Middle, which is roughly 10 miles away.

      Last year, the district allowed students to meet at Bennettsville Intermediate School around 7:20 in the morning and board a connector bus to Blenheim.

      Tim McNeil contacted WPDE after he was told parents couldn't find out why students weren't being allowed to ride a connector bus this year.

      McNeil said he spoke to district administrators and they have given him different explanations for the earlier pick up time.

      "So really, I don't really know. I've asked, met with people, but no clear explanation," he said.

      WPDE took McNeil's and other parents' concerns to Marlboro County School District administrators.

      The District's Public Information Officer, Henry Cobb, released a statement saying that it "became necessary to transport students from their Bennettsville neighborhoods directly to the Blenheim School in the morning and to return them to the same in the afternoon." The statement also said that the new schedule "enhances the safety of our students because of direct transport to and from the above school sites to their respective neighborhoods."

      The district also said in the statement that "it takes a few days at the beginning of the school year for bus routes and other school schedules to settle. It is our goal to work in concert with our parents and school community to improve the efficiency of our students to and from school." Read the statement in full at the bottom of this story.

      Marlboro County School Board Chairman Lucy Mills Parsons said she tried to have a special called meeting on the issue of early pick up times, but only a few board members could attend.

      Parsons said she plans to address the matter at the board's meeting next month.

      McNeil is hoping school board members will find a solution to the problem.

      "These issues isn't going away. These children are very important to us. Their children aren't out here at 5:47, it's our children. And I am committed to not let this issue go, until that connector bus is reinstated," NcNeil said.

      Full statement from Marlboro County School District Public Information Officer, Henry Cobb

      The Office of Transportation of the Marlboro County School District, in consultation with the administration and school community, has implemented a new bus schedule procedure for this current school year.

      For the past two years, since the opening of Blenheim Elementary Middle School, the new Bennettsville Intermediate School served as a connector/hub site for students who were to be transported to the Blenheim campus. In an effort to maintain the integrity of various master school schedules as well as to protect increased learning time for students, it became necessary to transport students from their Bennettsville neighborhoods directly to the Blenheim School in the morning and to return them to the same in the afternoon. Furthermore, this modified bus schedule enhances the safety of our students because of direct transport to and from the above school sites to their respective neighborhoods.

      The district continues to operate the connector/hub system from the campus of Bennettsville Intermediate School to the School of Discovery because of the school's dismissal time. Uniquely, students who attend the School of Discovery come from each of the district's attendance areas which includes Clio, Wallace, Blenheim, McColl, and Bennettsville. This transportation procedure has been in place for several years and has worked successfully.

      At this time, students attending Blenheim Elementary/ Middle School from the Bennettsville attendance area are asked to be ready to board the bus at their bus stop no earlier than 6:10 each morning. This ensures a safe and appropriate arrival time to school.

      As with most districts in the state, it takes a few days at the beginning of the school year for bus routes and other school schedules to settle. It is our goal to work in concert with our parents and school community to improve the efficiency of our students to and from school.

      We appreciate the patience and support our parents and community provide for us each year. Please know that the School District of Marlboro County will continue to work to ensure that each student receives the best quality education.