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Washington County might require students to be picked up, dropped off at same bus stop

'Major' change to transportation policy to be discussed at April 29 town meeting

'Major' change to transportation policy to be discussed at April 29 town meeting

April 17, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- A school bus transportation change being considered for Washington County Public Schools would require students to be picked up and dropped off each day from one consistent bus stop.

That change could have prevented a kindergarten student from being dropped off two miles from his home late last year after boarding the wrong school bus, Board of Education Member Wayne D. Ridenour said.

"It would cut the possibility of that happening dramatically," Ridenour said of the policy. "The most important thing is the safety (of the students)."

The board voted Tuesday to consider changes to its transportation policy that officials described as "major." The vote was 6-0, with Board Member Bernadette M. Wagner absent.

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The board agreed to hold a town meeting April 29 for the public to discuss the possible change. Board President Roxanne R. Ober said the board is scheduled to vote on the new policy May 20.

Current practice allows parents to arrange in advance for students to be picked up and dropped off at multiple stops throughout the week, Supervisor of Transportation Barbara Scotto said. They also can send a note to school with the student asking that the student ride a different bus than the one he normally rides.

Scotto said officials receive between 500 and 700 change requests each school year. Adding the number of notes that principals and teachers receive, she said officials handle thousands of requests each year.

So many changes can create an unsafe environment with more opportunity for mistakes to occur, officials said.

Assistant Superintendent for School Operations Boyd Michael said the requests have gone beyond one change for one child. It's often multiple changes for one child each week.

"It's gone beyond accommodating the basic needs of families to becoming almost a taxi or limousine service," he said. "At some point, it just becomes unmanageable. We've reached the point where we have to do something different."

Justin M. Hartings - a Keedysville resident and candidate for the Board of Education - said Tuesday that he understands the logistical challenge of changing a student's bus stops.

"But consider the effect this single-stop policy might have on, for example, divorced parents who have joint custody of their children," Hartings said.

The children no longer could be dropped off at a different parent's home on different days. A single mother whose work schedule changes to allow her to be with her children after school, instead of sending them to day care, also would be inconvenienced by the proposed policy, he said.

Hartings suggested a middle ground where the board could strike a balance between the needs of families and student safety.

Board Vice President Donna Brightman said that is the type of information the board would like to hear from parents.

"I do think the new policy is heading in the right direction," she said. "Maybe there is a solution, a halfway point. We're looking for input. We're looking for answers."

Brightman said the school system cannot allow children to be at risk.

"It is an unfortunate hardship for parents, but children's safety is first," Board Member Ruth Anne Callaham said.

If approved, Ober said the school system staff would like the changes in place by the upcoming school year.

"I hope we would have policies in place to try to anticipate any type of situation that would face the school system," she said. "As a school system and elected board, we must ensure the safety and security of the students."

If you go



What: Town meeting to discuss possible change in bus transportation policy for Washington County Public Schools

When: Tuesday, April 29, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Washington County Public Schools central office, 820 Commonwealth Ave., Hagerstown

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