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Board says Washington County school bus changes will have widespread effect

April 30, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Parents in Washington County could be surprised by changes affecting their children's transportation to and from school.

A public meeting Tuesday to discuss changes in transporting Washington County Public Schools students yielded little public input, but school board members say the changes will affect many families.

The policy change being considered would require students to be picked up and dropped off each day at one consistent bus stop.

Current practice allows parents to arrange in advance for students to be picked up and dropped off at several stops throughout the week. Parents also may send a note to school with the student asking that the student ride a different bus than the one he normally rides.

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"My concern is that citizens are not paying attention to this change, and they will be caught by surprise," Board Vice President Donna Brightman said.

At Tuesday's meeting, the seven-member school board was nearly double the size of the public audience, which included three candidates for the Board of Education and one parent. Others in the audience were school system staff.

Board President Roxanne R. Ober said she was surprised by the low number of participants in what was intended to be a discussion to get feedback on the changes being considered.

School system officials have said that 500 to 700 requests for transportation changes are received each school year. Adding the number of notes that principals and teachers receive, officials handle thousands of requests each year.

During Tuesday's meeting, Assistant Superintendent for School Operations Boyd Michael shared a note written by a parent asking that a child be dropped off at several different bus stops on different days. The parent noted that the student would need to go to a different bus stop, though, during hunting season.

Board Member Bernadette M. Wagner said a reason the board is considering the policy change that would forbid those types of requests stems from a miscommunication last year that led a kindergartner to board the wrong bus and be dropped off two miles from his home.

"We've become victims of our own desire to be flexible," she said. "What we needed to do was put a policy together that might not be as flexible, but our primary goal was to ensure the safety of students."

Ober said the board is scheduled to vote on the new policy May 20, and hopes to have the changes in place at the start of the upcoming school year.

Justin M. Hartings -- a Keedysville resident and candidate for the Washington County Board of Education -- spoke during Tuesday's meeting and said the policy is modeled after a "1940s family." He said some consideration should be given for family situations, changes in work schedules and other parent needs that exist in Washington County.

"I would hope there would be some sort of middle ground and flexibility between the one-size-fits-all approach that seems to be in the policy and the absolute chaos that goes on at school right now," Hartings said.

The policy changes being proposed would allow for one morning pick-up stop and one afternoon drop-off stop. Unless there is an emergency or a change of address by the family, there is little flexibility for parents except through an appeal process.

Pam Perez of Smithsburg was the only other person to speak during Tuesday's meeting. She was concerned that her children would no longer be picked up at a bus stop near her home and dropped off at a bus stop near her mother's home.

Perez, who works as a nurse in Frederick, Md., said her work schedule would not allow her to drive back to Washington County to take her preschooler to day care.

Wagner said that parents could have their children picked up from one stop in the morning, and dropped off at one stop in the afternoon. However, those stops must be consistent, according to the proposed policy changes.

Perez said the proposed changes could leave children without supervision when they are dropped off after school.

"I'm still concerned about other children," Perez said. "They're leaving it open to a lot of people who are going to have children at home unsupervised behind locked doors. We all know children don't listen to locked doors. It's unsafe for children."




  • To read changes to the transportation policy being considered by the Washington County Board of Education, go to www.wcboe.k12.md.us

  • To access an electronic survey about Washington County Public Schools transportation, go to www.wcboe.k12.md.us/content/d_s_trans.cfm

  • Anyone with feedback may call the Transportation Department at 301-766-2902. Comments can be e-mailed to feedback@wcboe.k12.md.us.

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