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Community group says Washington County school bus transportation policy unsafe, unfair

October 22, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- New school bus transportation rules for local students have resulted in some young children being left unsupervised after school, and parents cutting back on their work hours or even deciding whether to go to work, according to a local community group.

The Washington County Community Partnership for Children & Families stated in a letter to the Washington County Board of Education that the group has "become aware of multiple situations that have caused parents or caregivers to limit their employment, leave young children unattended in rural bus stop areas or be forced to let their children walk to an empty home and care for themselves instead of going to a daycare facility."

Board Vice President Donna Brightman read from the letter during a School Board meeting Tuesday, when a more flexible transportation policy was discussed and ultimately voted down. The policy, which was approved in May, allows one consistent morning bus stop and one afternoon bus stop. Those two stops can be different.

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After several proposals Tuesday to offer more flexibility for school bus transportation for Washington County Public Schools students failed to garner enough support from School Board members, the board voted to send the policy back to a committee for possible revision.

The vote Tuesday to reconsider the policy was 5-2, with Board Members Wayne D. Ridenour and Ruth Anne Callaham opposed. Both Ridenour and Callaham proposed policy changes during Tuesday's board meeting that would allow for more than one consistent bus stop.

Sabrina Lee, a parent who has spoken out about the hardship that the policy creates for her, said Tuesday that asking the same committee that crafted the original policy to consider revisions would be useless. Members on the policy committee include Board President Roxanne R. Ober, Brightman and Board Member Bernadette M. Wagner.

Wagner and Ober have been open in their support of the current policy. However, Ober said that the committee always has allowed open discussion from community members.

For months, parents have spoken with the board about custody agreements, day-care providers and work schedules that make it difficult to have children picked up at only one morning stop and one afternoon stop.

"Because this is real life," Lee said. "Real life presents obstacles - obstacles that are not allowed for in any way, shape or form in this transportation policy."

The letter from the Community Partnership said additional stress also is being placed on children because custody agreements have had to be adjusted to accommodate the policy that "does not recognize the realities of modern day family structures."

The group asked that two morning pickup locations and two afternoon drop-off locations be allowed.

Motions to alter the policy to allow for two morning and two afternoon bus stops and to allow for parents to receive waivers if they could show a "documented hardship" each failed.

A proposal by Ridenour to consider allowing elementary and middle school students to have two consistent morning pickup locations and one afternoon drop-off location, but allow high school students two consistent stops at each time, also was voted down, 3-3, with Brightman abstaining.

Ridenour, Callaham and Board Member Paul W. Bailey voted in favor of that change.

The policy will be discussed again in the policy committee, and the next meeting of that committee is Oct. 28.

"Let's bring it back to the committee so they can rewrite, reword ... and it may include (two bus stops)," Board Member William H. Staley said. "This has been taking up our time week after week, meeting after meeting, and we haven't accomplished anything."

If You Go



What: Washington County Board of Education policy committee public meeting

When: Oct. 28, 12:30 p.m.

Where: Washington County Public Schools Central Office, 820 Commonwealth Ave., Hagerstown

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