In Violence-Plagued Camden, a Call for Funds to Stop Making Kids Walk 2+ Miles to School

In Camden, named the most dangerous city in the country last year, many elementary and high-school students are forced to walk two to two and a half miles to and from school each day.

Now, as the city's homicide rate climbs, more than doubling what it was this time last year, officials and activists are calling for funding that could help keep students safer by providing better transportation.

Camden's school district superintendent and other officials joined a city high school student on his more than two-mile trek home on Monday to illustrate the need for more school transit. NBC10's Cydney Long was there.

Currently, New Jersey state law provides no school buses for K-8 students who live within two miles of their schools or high school students who live within two and a half miles, meaning students within those ranges are forced to walk to school or find alternate modes of transportation.

In a city where the poverty rate hovers around 40 percent, according to U.S. Census statistics, car rides or other ways of getting to school aren't available to many students.

"A majority of them are living in poverty. A majority of them are coming from single-parent homes in which the parents are working one more more jobs. They don't enjoy the same support system that their counterparts have in suburbia getting to and from school," Camden Metro Police Chief Scott Thomson told Cydney Long.

Thomson, Camden City School District Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard and Assembly Member Arthur Barclay, a Camden High alum who walked to class each day when he attended school there, will join community members on the 2.4-mile walk with a Camden High student after school.

Camden officials said not all walks in New Jersey are created equal, so the current law doesn't work for students in cities like Camden.

"The argument the community group is making and the argument the superintendent supports is not all walks are the same, and a walk two miles in certain parts of Camden requires more safety supports than a walk in other communities across the state," school district spokesman Brendan Lowe said.

"A one-size-fits-all approach is not gonna work in a place like New Jersey," Thomson said. "A two-mile walk in a place like Camden is gonna be far different than a two-mile walk in Cherry Hill or Moorestown."

Camden recently tallied an uptick in homicides that brought murder rates in the city to 22 this year, more than double where they were last year at the same time. Police said they've seen an increase in daytime shootings.

"We take student safety extremely seriously. It's the first area we focus on in our strategic plan, and we have a partnership with the police department to have extra patrols on routes students are most likely to take to and from school," Lowe said. "We think that increased funds for transportation would be one way to increase safety."

He said that students reporting feeling safe around their schools has improved over the last three years, but there's still work to be done.

"There's progress to be made," he said. "Especially with the events of this spring."

There are five high schools and 15 K-8 schools in Camden. Lowe said he did not have an exact number available of how many students walk to and from school.

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