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Board leaves Washington Co. school bus rules unchanged

September 17, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Board of Education considered more flexible school bus transportation rules Tuesday night, then voted to keep the current policy.

School Board Member Wayne D. Ridenour asked the board to consider a change to the current policy that would allow two consistent morning pick-up locations and two afternoon drop-off locations. The current policy, approved in May, allows one consistent morning bus stop and one afternoon bus stop, and those may be different.

Ridenour's request, which came during the board's public business meeting Tuesday, was discussed and then rejected, 5-1. Board Member Ruth Anne Callaham was absent for the vote, and Ridenour was the only board member to vote in favor of the change.

Ridenour said that his suggestion of two consistent bus stops in the morning and afternoon would help solve the problems faced by many divorced and separated parents. Several of those families have been denied transportation requests and have appealed those rulings.

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Before leaving, Callaham said, "We are not serving that population well if we do not recognize the two residences."

Hagerstown resident Samuel Baker has a split-custody agreement and was denied his request for two afternoon drop-off locations for his son. Baker said he has followed a four-step appeals process and has been denied at three levels, including that of Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan.

"It's obvious the appeals process isn't even relevant," Baker said after Tuesday's vote.

Baker and Sharon Harrison, a grandmother of children affected by the new policy, criticized it during a public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting.

The next and final step for Baker is to appeal his case before the school board.

Ridenour said that allowing two bus stops would help families with split-custody agreements and lessen the need for appeals.

Morgan said Tuesday that she and staff were following the policy when denying the appeals. The appeals allow for an exception only in case of an emergency, which is defined as situations that "may endanger the life and physical well-being of pupils" or when compliance "may make the operation of pupil transportation impossible or unsafe due to an Act of God, strike, rebellion or other unforeseen disturbance."

However, Board Vice President Donna Brightman said she was hoping Morgan would have more flexibility to approve appeals. Brightman said the appeals process was not meeting her expectations.

"I thought the appeals process would address some of the issues these citizens have brought forward," she said.

Morgan said the school board cannot decide which policies it wants to give staff latitude to interpret.

"You've slapped us on the hand publicly and privately when we have not followed your policies," she said to Brightman.

Morgan said the school board has "tied our hands" by making restrictive policies.

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