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Tell the board its transportation policy has to go

September 04, 2008

To the editor:

This letter is regarding the Washington County Board of Education's new policy requiring one drop-off location for students this year. Hopefully, by now the board is reconsidering its hasty vote to adopt such a restrictive policy. Paul Bailey and Wayne Ridenour voted against it that night and they are to be commended. Ruth Anne Callaham and even Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan suggested that the vote should be delayed to allow the public to see the new proposed policy and comment on it, and Donna Brightman had said that morning that "significant changes" to the proposed policy could postpone the vote, but at Bernadette Wagner's insistence on a vote that night, they voted for it. I've learned over the years to go with my gut feeling, and hopefully, they are learning that, too.

I understand that some changes needed to be made to the transportation policy. Apparently, it had been abused in recent years. And yes, one student was dropped off at the entirely wrong location. That is unacceptable, but that problem was caused by putting the child on the wrong bus, and could have been solved with a simple phone call.

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The problem is that the board used that incident to push through a new policy that is just too restrictive for today's families. They already had procedures in place to allow parents some flexibility in pick-up and drop-off locations. Paperwork had to be filed and the parents who needed that flexibility did that so they could go to work and know that their children would be with day-care providers, family and/or friends. Many families have had such arrangements in place for several years and never had a problem until now. Instead of making minor adjustments to the existing policy and then enforcing it, they scrapped the old policy and started over.

The policy is now one pickup location, one drop-off location, every day. According to Wagner, the provision that the two can be different is enough flexibility for everyone. I don't know how she arrived at that conclusion. There are too many variables in parents' schedules to assume that one different drop-off location would fix everything.

What about parents who have pieced together day care arrangements involving more than one provider? Why should they have to disrupt a satisfactory arrangement, sometimes involving siblings, just because the student would need to ride a different bus a few days a week? Also, not everyone is fortunate enough to have the money for day care every day and have family members who do the honors -- but they don't live in the same house, so a different bus stop is required there, too.

What about students whose parents have split custody arrangements? This is becoming more prevalent in divorce settlements now, and overnight visits mean a different bus stop should be allowed. Some parents who have been denied a second set of stops now drive their children to and from school on the days that they can't use the permitted stops.

Buses are still going to make their runs, with or without the affected students, so it doesn't cost the school system a dime more if the student gets on a different bus. Parents, however, are spending extra time and using extra gas that could be avoided with just allowing the child to ride a different bus.

Commissioner James Kercheval has criticized the new policy, based on calls he's received from parents. He said Boyd Michael told him the the policy works to eliminate a lot of the scheduling and transportation changes that can lead to safety issues for students. It has eliminated the changes by denying all requests for more than one drop-off. Appeals have been passed on through the system and denied at every level so far. So much for the appeal process.

Parents, if this policy has made your life more complicated than it should be, please band together and fight it. It's not written in stone. You were railroaded into something that needed more discussion and fine-tuning. I want our students to be safe going to and from school as much as the next person, but the board needs to change this policy to accommodate the needs of today's families.

If you agree with me and are willing to fight this very unfair policy, please call me at 301-797-8108. Call your elected Board of Education members. Call James Kercheval and the other county commissioners. They fund the school system and they are all elected by the people and parents in this county. Better yet, show up at the next Board of Education meeting on Sept. 4, at 1 p.m. (yes, in the afternoon) at the Board office on Commonwealth Avenue. Sign up to speak and tell everyone how this policy change has impacted your life. The board needs to be responsive to the parents of this county.

Sharon E. Harrison
Hagerstown

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