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Starting Monday, students at Yokota middle and high schools may have to thumb a ride from mom or dad or lace up their walking shoes.

The Kanto Express shuttle — the blue bus that provides free public transportation between the base’s east and west sides — will no longer stop near either campus immediately before or after school.

Base officials say they are fed up with student misbehavior on the bus, including verbal abuse of bus drivers, fighting and vandalizing seats. Students will have to earn back the privilege of catching the bus near school, said Col. Mark Correll, the 374th Mission Support Group commander.

Correll said there have been instances of kids “beating each other up, choking each other” and “being vulgar.” While boarding, students also set up “walls” to block the bus driver from checking IDs. “Our concern is that something significantly bad would happen on the bus” if this was allowed to continue, he added. “The problem is almost exclusively middle school and high school kids.”

For the duration of the school year, the shuttle will bypass designated bus stops between the fuels yard near Darling Field and U.S. Forces Japan headquarters just past Yokota Field from 6 to 8 a.m. and 2 to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“We’re not stopping anywhere near the high school,” Correll said.

Signs notifying riders of the new schedule are posted at the excluded stops, base officials said. The regular bus route will resume this summer. “We’ll evaluate over the summer how the kids behave on the bus,” Correll said. “If behavior improves, we’ll go back to stopping at every stop and letting everybody ride. It is on them to improve their behavior, and we’ll react accordingly.”

Correll said bus seats are continually cut up and defaced, costing the wing about $7,000 a year to replace. It’s not a new phenomenon: Student vandalism and misbehavior have been ongoing in Correll’s two years at Yokota, he said, to the extent that bus drivers were authorized to head directly to security forces if needed.

But base officials say that safeguard isn’t working. “Over the course of the last four to six months, vandalism and misbehavior have increased markedly,” Correll said.

The 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron — which operates the Kanto Express — had young officers in civilian clothes ride the bus to gauge the environment and attempt to keep the peace. “When the officers confronted the kids, the kids confronted right back,” he said, “and refused to comply.”

Col. Kenneth Wavering, the 374th Airlift Wing’s vice commander, announced the new shuttle policy on Eagle 810 Friday morning.

Correll reminded parents that the Kanto Express is not a replacement for the school bus, but rather to provide transportation for “mission reasons.” Pacific Air Forces authorized the shuttle because of the distance between the east and west sides of base.

Under Department of Defense Dependent Schools policy, students who do not live within walking distance of school — as defined by DODDS — can procure a bus pass, Correll said. “Nobody is going to be kept out of school because of this policy,” he said.

Students who stay after school for extracurricular activities, however, will have to find another means of transportation.

“This will fall back on the parents to a certain extent,” Correll said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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