School closures could mean longer commutes for students. Here’s why that’s a problem.

May 13, 2024

If plans to consolidate seven middle schools in the Fort Worth Independent School District go forward, it will mean students at some of those campuses have longer trips to and from school each day.

But research indicates that longer commute times to and from school can take a toll on students’ lives outside of school. In a 2017 study, researchers found that the time students spend on the school bus can mean less time for sleeping and exercise.

“The research suggests that more local schools are good for students’ health, and probably for their well-being,” said Michael Smart, a professor of urban planning at Rutgers University…

Smart, the Rutgers professor, was one of the researchers who conducted the study. He said another factor that could contribute to the difference in exercise time is the fact that many students get their exercise playing outside with other kids. When students have longer commute times, that means fewer daylight hours for them to spend playing when they get home from school, he said.

But not all activities seemed to suffer when students had long journeys to and from school. Students who had commute times of 30 minutes or more reported spending more time studying than those with shorter drives. And students’ commute times appeared to have no significant bearing on the amount of time they spent watching television, according to the report.

“I guess TV is just really attractive,” Smart said.

In sprawling cities like Fort Worth and others in Texas, it can be a challenge for school leaders to keep students from spending long stretches of time commuting to and from school, Smart said. But evidence suggests students are better off when their schools are closer to home. That means doing what’s best for kids might sometimes mean fighting against school closures, he said. Fort Worth ISD officials are expected to present the middle school consolidation plan to the school board on May 28.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 13, 2024

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