Children from the Blythe Street neighborhood of Panorama City who normally make a dangerous daily trek through gang turf and across train tracks to attend class will be offered bus service, thanks to an agreement announced earlier this week between Los Angeles municipal and school officials.
The bus service is being provided after repeated requests from parents in the working-class neighborhood, some of whom have paid up to $28 a week to have private vans drive students to school.
Beginning Dec. 6, the Los Angeles Unified School District will provide bus service for Blythe Street children attending Valerio Elementary School. Monday, the city of Los Angeles started a shuttle bus line that takes older Blythe Street youngsters to Fulton Middle School.
Blythe Street is home to about 400 students who attend the two schools. But to get to school, they have had to either cross nearby tracks for Metrolink commuter trains or brave a long walk along gang-plagued Blythe Street and Van Nuys Boulevard.
The school district does not provide Blythe Street children with busing because they live within 1.2 miles of the two schools. The cost of such services, school officials said, would be about $300,000.
However, City Councilman Richard Alarcon, who represents the area, said he asked the district to make an exception for Blythe Street students because of the hazards the students face.
"It is clearly the case that there are special circumstances," he said.
School board member Julie Korenstein, who represents the area, said the district had made such exceptions in the past for students who faced similar problems. But she said such bus services were eliminated because there was not enough money.
The city and the school district agreed to split the responsibility, with the school district transporting the elementary students and the city taking responsibility for the middle-school students.
"I had to scratch and beg and plead in order to get the service for the elementary school," Korenstein said.
Although the city shuttle buses will cost students 50 cents per round trip and the school bus will not accommodate all the students in the area, Blythe Street parents praised the new services.
"I feel better knowing that I don't have to worry how my son will get to school," said Valarie Falero, an apartment manager on Blythe Street who has a 9-year-old son attending Valerio and a 12-year-old daughter attending Fulton.
Eddie Ceniceros, who has 6- and 7-year-old daughters, said he paid a woman in the neighborhood $28 a week to drive his children to school because he worried about them being hit by a train or car on the way to school.
He said he has also been worrying that his daughters may become victims of the serial child molester who police say is responsible for attacks on more than 20 children in the San Fernando Valley.
What made the situation worse, Ceniceros said, was that most of the families paying to have their children driven to school could barely afford to put food on their tables.
"Just this week I was handing out turkeys to some of these people," he said. "And I found that some of these homes didn't have ovens to cook them in."