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New school bus policy OK'd by Washington County board

May 21, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Her young daughter attends two day cares after school each week, and without school bus transportation taking her daughter to different afternoon stops, Sabrina Lee isn't sure what she will do.

"I have no alternative," she said. "As a single mom, I have no way of being there to get her off the bus."

Lee, who is a teacher at Bester Elementary School, will have to think of a solution before the start of the next school year when her daughter, and every other Washington County Public Schools student, will be restricted to one morning pickup location and one afternoon drop-off location. Those stops can be different.

The Washington County Board of Education voted Tuesday on a policy that includes that change, along with several others. The vote was 5-2, with Board Members Paul W. Bailey and Wayne D. Ridenour opposed.

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Lee said the new policy does not account for custody arrangements, work schedules and other things that factor into parents' "crazy routine."

"This is a one-size-fits-all approach," she said. "Definitely one size does not fit all."

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 that he or she normally rides.

Board Member Wayne D. Ridenour said that the school system has been accommodating for parents, but that safety of the students is the first priority.

Officials have said they receive between 500 and 700 bus stop change requests each school year. Adding the number of notes that principals and teachers receive, officials handle thousands of requests each year.

"We can do (bus stop) A and B, and even C might be OK," Ridenour said. "But when you go through the whole alphabet to accommodate (parents), you run into some serious problems."

The opposition

Several people spoke out against the transportation changes during Tuesday's public business meeting, including Lee.

Jacqueline B. Fischer, a former Board of Education member and a school board candidate, suggested allowing two possible morning pickup locations and two possible afternoon drop-off locations to help parents such as Lee.

"This change would allow most working parents, and particularly joint custody parents, to deal with their individual situations," Fischer said. "This is a rather stringent policy."

Board President Roxanne R. Ober said that 238 parents completed a survey about the policy. The majority of those parents said it was the limit of one afternoon drop-off location that would create a hardship.

Boyd Michael, assistant superintendent for school operations, said during a committee meeting Tuesday that the policy places more responsibility on parents.

However, parents can make appeals through a chain of command for some leeway, as they can with any policy, Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

Possibly postponed

Justin M. Hartings - a Keedysville resident and a candidate for the Board of Education - has been speaking out against the change since it first was discussed last month.

"At this point, however, I still don't have a clear understanding on what the board will be voting on," he said Tuesday.

A copy of the policy was not available to the public Monday night on the Washington County Public Schools Web site (www.wcboe.k12.md.us), and the revised policy was not available after a Tuesday afternoon committee meeting, when changes to the policy were discussed.

The policy was changed to allow students to ride a school bus even if they are attending a school that is outside of their school district. An example of this would be a student attending a magnet school on special permission.

Hartings said that modifying policy proposals hours before a vote is taken gives the "perception that the board makes all of its real decisions behind closed doors."

"It's not good government," he said.

Hartings said that the public cannot be involved in the decision-making process if they do not have access to the information.

"I believe local government can and should be better," he said.

Hartings encouraged the board to postpone its vote until its June meeting.

Ridenour supported that suggestion, even though the change made the policy less restrictive for parents.

"It's still something that the public didn't have time to look at," he said.

How they voted



The Washington County Board of Education on Tuesday approved by a 5-2 vote a transportation policy that restricts students to one morning pickup location and one afternoon drop-off location. Those stops can be different.

Board President Roxanne R. Ober - Yes

Board Vice President Donna Brightman - Yes

Member Paul W. Bailey - No

Member Ruth Anne Callaham - Yes

Member Wayne D. Ridenour - No

Member William H. Staley - Yes

Member Bernadette M. Wagner - Yes

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