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WCPS busing still a concern for parents

September 01, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- In the week after five children were involved in separate busing mishaps, parents of other Washington County Public Schools students said their children had similar problems getting home from school.

Transportation Supervisor Barbara Scotto said last week that some additional children have boarded the wrong school bus in the days since school began Aug. 20. Many of those errors were caused by paperwork that had not yet been processed, she said.

School system officials say they are working to correct the busing problems.

On Aug. 21, three Funkstown School for Early Childhood Education students were dropped off at the wrong bus stop in downtown Hagerstown. They were dropped off at the corner of North Locust and John streets - one block from their actual bus stop - and found running along the road a short time later.

Two other children from the same school boarded the wrong bus that day.

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A Funkstown kindergartner also boarded the wrong bus in October 2007 and was dropped off about two miles from home, The Herald-Mail has reported.

On Wednesday, school system spokesman Richard Wright said Funkstown staff members are monitoring afternoon drop-offs on four school buses. Those buses take children into what was the Eastern Elementary School attendance zone - where some children involved in last week's incidents live.

Staff members were riding those school buses, keeping track of where students are dropped off, Wright said. Scotto said those staff members also were communicating with parents, making sure that an adult is at the bus stop to meet the younger children.

Parents' concerns

Julie Keller said her two children were dropped off at the wrong house Aug. 21 and told to walk more than a half-mile to their grandmother's house.

The children are 6 and 9 years old, and attend Conococheague Elementary School.

"The bus driver told them to stay in the grass and walk," Keller said.

The children were dropped off at her home, but Keller said they should have been dropped off at her mother-in-law's house. Scotto said Keller did not fill out the necessary paperwork to have her children dropped off at their grandmother's house.

Keller said she filed the appropriate paperwork to have her children dropped off at her mother-in-law's home but picked up from her home. However, on Aug. 21, those instructions were not followed, even after Keller said she received verbal confirmation from school officials.

Keller lives along Cedar Ridge Road, and said her children walked more than a half-mile on that road to their grandmother's house.

"There are dump trucks flying up and down that road," she said. "Nobody does the speed limit on this road. I was furious. And I do mean furious."

Keller said the miscommunication regarding the stops was due to a new bus transportation policy. Scotto said the new policy had no impact on recent transportation issues.

Last year, Keller's children were dropped off at her home some days during the week when she was not at work, and spent the other afternoons with their grandmother. The new policy allows only one morning and one afternoon bus stop. Those can be different.

"(Officials) took something that for years and years ... a system that has worked ... and completely destroyed it," Keller said.

Vicky Souders said she filled out the appropriate paperwork so her 5-year-old son could ride the bus to meet his great-grandfather. Souders said she arranged to meet her son at the bus stop after his first day of kindergarten, Aug. 21, at Maugansville Elementary School.

Souders said she was waiting for her son, but he never got off the bus. The bus driver told Souders that her son was dropped off two stops before, she said. Souders said the driver did not remember which stop or the name of the street.

For 30 minutes, Souders and her grandfather searched around Maugans Avenue for her son, she said.

When she returned to the elementary school, a school system employee contacted the driver, who said Souders' son was on the bus the entire time.

"It caused this big panic for nothing," she said. "It was pretty scary ... picturing my 5-year-old standing on the edge of the road."

Souders said her son has not been on a school bus since his first day of school.

"Maybe when he's a little older," she said. "I just don't feel safe about it."

Adults at stops

Keller said she is concerned that her young children were dropped off at her home when there was not an adult there. Washington County Public Schools officials say that only a prekindergarten student is required to be dropped off with an adult present. Bus drivers use discretion, though, and Tuesday, a bus driver did not drop off a kindergartner because there was not an adult at the bus stop, Scotto said.

"We're trying to take all the precautions that we can not to drop a child of a tender age where there is no adult in sight," she said. "We're going to err on the side of safety and good judgment when a kindergarten child is being dropped off alone somewhere."Jamie Feigley of Hagerstown had similar concerns when her 4-year-old was found Aug. 21 running along the street in downtown Hagerstown. Her son and two 5-year-olds were dropped off at the wrong bus stop that day without an adult they knew.

Scotto said there was an adult at the stop, but not one that was there to meet those three children.

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