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Some say Washington County school bus policy change would hurt their families

May 05, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Justin M. Hartings has said the Washington County Board of Education is modeling a new busing change after 1940s families.

For Jeb Eckstine, the realities of his 21st-century family will be impacted if that change becomes permanent.

Eckstine, the PTA president of Fountain Rock Elementary School, is going through a divorce, works late shifts as a firefighter for the City of Hagerstown and said his children will split their time between their parents.

Hartings - a Keedysville resident and a candidate for the board - has said school board members should consider these family situations and others before placing restrictions on busing.

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

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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 or she normally rides.

Board Member Bernadette M. Wagner has said the board is considering the policy change in part because of a miscommunication last year that led a kindergartner to board the wrong bus and be dropped off two miles from his home.

She said the policy offers less flexibility than the current system, but will improve student safety.

"For me, I have mixed emotions," Eckstine said. "I understand the safety aspect. But there are days when my children could ride home to my residence (instead of their mother's). That would be a concern of mine. I want it to be convenient for my children to ride the bus home."

Eckstine has one child at Fountain Rock Elementary and another child who will be enrolling in Williamsport High School in the next school year.

Eckstine said he is house hunting in those school districts so his children could ride the bus to his home.

He said this will be a concern for several other Fountain Rock parents he knows who are divorced.

Another concern is parents who have changing work schedules and use a day-care provider on some days, but not others.

"This most definitely will affect families," he said.

Robert Harr, South Hagerstown High School PTSA president, said the proposed transportation changes are a step in the right direction. Harr has a daughter who attends South Hagerstown High, but she does not ride a bus.

He said after learning of the incident with the kindergartner late last year, he realized there was a problem with the school system's transportation policy.

"(The school board) is recognizing the problem, and they are at least trying to eliminate the problem," Harr said.

He said restricting the number of bus stops will make the rides to and from school safer for students.

"In defense of the schools and the drivers, it's just so confusing," Harr said.

Lori Hare, the mother of a sixth-grader at Springfield Middle School, said she did not realize that children were riding multiple buses. Her son rides the same bus in the morning that he does in the afternoon.

She said other changes need to be made regarding school bus transportation. At the beginning of this school year, a bus driver let her son off in the wrong neighborhood after school.

"He proceeded to walk to my house one mile away along Sharpsburg Pike," Hare said.

While Hare's son gets on and off of the bus at the same stop, she said other families might have a need for more than one stop. She said that can create additional confusion.

"I really don't know the answer," Hare said. "I've never had to deal with that situation."

In the past, Dodie Green's children spent the afternoon with their grandmother if Green couldn't be home to meet them after school. Those type of prearranged busing changes would not be allowed if the proposed policy change is approved.

The school board is expected to vote May 20.

Green, who is involved in Bester Elementary School's Bester Boosters, said the school will have only walkers next year.

She said she has mixed feelings about the proposed policy.

"I know the commotion that goes on at the end of the day," Green said.

However, she believes many parents will be affected by the change, especially divorced parents whose children split their time between two households.

"Things that are prearranged ... vacations, business trips, and of course the custody arrangements ... This (policy) could be detrimental to some families," Green said.

If you go



What: Washington County Board of Education public business meeting where the board is expected to vote on a transportation policy change

When: Tuesday, May 20, 6 p.m.

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

Details: For more information, call 301-766-2800.

On the Web:

· 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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