Monday, April 14, 2008 | As dawn breaks over Logan Heights, 40 middle school students file, stop by stop, onto the school bus that delivers them to La Jolla. Mexican markets and taquerias flit away beyond the bus windows, gradually replaced by posh boutiques and million-dollar views.
The 40-minute journey is utterly normal for many preteens, their daily routine since kindergarten, when parents pulled them from Logan Heights schools. They chatter about futures studying and playing soccer at La Jolla High like siblings who came before them as the yellow bus rumbles toward Muirlands Middle School.
Since the 1970s, families in the southern neighborhoods of San Diego have chosen to send their children northward via a racial integration program that imports children from mostly black and Latino neighborhoods to largely white areas. Nearly 7,000 San Diego Unified students board buses through the program today, and trade classrooms in Logan Heights for La Jolla, Sherman Heights for Clairemont.
The busing program was created to diversify schools. But parents choose it for a variety of reasons, some entirely unrelated to diversity. Roxana Garcia’s parents sent her northward to Point Loma schools because they feared Logan Heights gangs infecting her elementary school. Years later Garcia also chose Point Loma schools for her two children. Gangs weren’t her main concern; a school that catered to her children was.
“The school is smaller. Their expectations are a bit higher. And I liked how involved the principal was with the teachers,” Garcia said, describing Loma Portal Elementary. At her Logan Heights school, “I didn’t see the same things. And I didn’t believe my daughter received the attention she should have gotten there.”
Thirty years after its inception, the largely south-to-north circuit of buses is alternately revered and resented. Yellow buses are a prized route to opportunity, safety and racial equity for some San Diego families. They’re also a practical necessity that staves off overcrowding in southern schools and boosts enrollment in their northern counterparts. Yet critics argue that busing does little for student achievement, and shifts millions of dollars from south to north. They lament the morning exodus of students, and the demoralizing implication — true or false — that neighborhood schools are inadequate.