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Washington County school bus policy allegations called 'misleading'

Group's charges that students were endangered weren't based on actual situations

Group's charges that students were endangered weren't based on actual situations

October 30, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

One Washington County Board of Education member called a letter from a community group "misleading" after it was revealed that allegations that students were being endangered by a new busing policy were not based on actual situations.

Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval, a nonvoting member of the Washington County Community Partnership for Children & Families, requested that the community partnership board send a letter to the school board opposing the transportation policy, according to a recording of the group's September meeting obtained by The Herald-Mail.

Kercheval has been outspoken against the transportation changes the Community Partnership for Children & Families said in the letter was putting students in danger.

The letter dated Oct. 17 states 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."

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But Paul Pittman, the chairman of community partnership's board of directors and one of two people who signed the letter, said the specific instances of children being put in danger noted in the letter were actually "concerns that these types of things could be happening."

Pittman said the board came to those conclusions based on its knowledge of the community groups with which board members work.

A woman is heard on the tape of the September meeting saying the dangerous situations for children were "probably going to be happening."

In a telephone interview, Kercheval said he revised the letter before it was sent to school board members.

Kercheval said his revisions focused on the tone of the letter, which he did not feel was appropriate in the original draft.

Pittman said that during a board meeting he chaired, members discussed the new busing policy, which limits the number of bus stops students can use. According to the tape of that meeting, Kercheval said he had received phone calls and e-mails from parents who are concerned about the policy. He mentioned specific cases, one involving a county employee, of parents who were inconvenienced by the new rules.

At the meeting, Kercheval said the policy had become a "burden" for parents, and he was concerned about the parents he believed were not coming forward. He said a parent was concerned about having to drop off a child at the bus stop an hour before the bus arrived in order to avoid being late for work, according to the tape.

Stephanie Stone, the director of the community partnership and the second person to sign the letter, wrote the original letter to the school board that was revised by Kercheval and reviewed by several others, according to the tape of the meeting.An original version of the letter before it was revised was obtained by The Herald-Mail. The section that has caused the most concern among school board members, which pertains to student safety, was changed from the original version.

The first letter stated, "We have become aware of many situations that have caused parents or caregivers to quit their jobs, take fewer hours or decide to let their children walk home by themselves due to this change in policy."

The letter that was sent to school board members after revisions, stated, "Since this policy was established, we have 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."

Stone said last week that she was unaware of any specific situations of children being put in danger, but said if the organization is made aware of those situations they contact the proper officials to ensure safety of the children.

When asked if the transportation policy personally affected him, Kercheval said that the policy did take away "another option" for after-school care for his children. However, he said the "different arrangements" his family made after learning about the policy were "not because of the transportation policy."

Under his previous childcare arrangements, Kercheval said the new rules would "have caused us some problems."

The policy limits Washington County Public Schools students to one consistent morning and one consistent afternoon bus stop, stops that may be different.

The Community Partnership for Children & Families receives grant money from the state that must be approved by the Washington County Commissioners. Members of the local management board must be approved by the commissioners, and Stone, its director, is a county employee.

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