Students Mobilized In Seattle To Win Free Bus Passes, But Fight Still Continues


Rainier Beach High School is located in South Seattle. It’s a school that is predominately students of color and with 95% come from low income families. It once had one of the worst reputations in the state. But after changes in administration and staff, Rainier Beach is now leading the district in graduation rates and ranks in the top 5% of the state in reading and math. And that’s not the only thing they are leading on.

Last summer, 120 students of color from Rainier Beach marched in Seattle’s streets to demand transportation justice. Five months later, the students convinced Seattle’s City Council to unanimously pass an initiative to fund free bus passes for all Seattle public school students. Now, the group is leading the community and the entire Seattle Public Schools district in a movement for progressive change.

I am a senior at Rainier Beach and the student body president. I was a part of the change my fellow classmates were demanding, and I’ve seen this story unfold first-hand. The reason this bus transit issue mattered so much to me and others is because it affects us all directly – in our pockets, and our parents’ pockets. Since my student community called for change, we have helped thousands of families in the Seattle district.

One of the student leaders for the initiative was Ifrah Abshir, a fellow senior at Rainier Beach who helped bring AP computer science to our school, opening a platform for students to learn about the tech industry. Ifrah has been a crucial advocate for transportation justice, fighting against the inequality that has been ongoing at our school and others.

The case for transportation justice

Seattle Public Schools it the biggest district in Washington State, with 53,000 students enrolled. The district made headlines last September when teachers here went on strike. The school district is criticized for a lot of things, and recently the main conflict has been the walk zone policy. The walk zone policy states that all middle and high schoolers who live more than two miles from their school are eligible for a free bus pass. The issue people have with the law is the two-mile range. Two miles is pretty far; speaking from personal experience, I walk to school and live only a mile and half away, and still it’s a struggle – especially living in an area that isn’t the safest. Many of my fellow students echo that concern.

The other argument is a purely economic one: who can really afford the bus passes? According to Ifrah, “a lot of our families can’t afford lunch, let alone $54 a month for an ORCA card bus pass. So students have to walk up to four miles a day to get to class, or pay their own way. Many of our students (73%) are on free and reduced lunch. If a family can’t afford $1.50 for lunch, how can they afford up to $3 for transportation?”

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