Howard County public school officials plan a study of the pathways used by many students who walk to school, the final recommendation of the outgoing members of a citizens' committee that has wrestled with walking route issues for two years.
"All the pathways of Howard County should be looked at," said committee member Rosemary Slack. "Times have changed, and the pathways need to be looked at (for safety) not just by this committee."
She said committee members would like to see county police involved in the study.
Student use of pathways became a major concern for Owen Brown Village parents in 1988 after several students were victims of crimes ranging from indecent exposure to rape along pathways in the Oakland Mills and Lake Elkhorn areas of Columbia.
Columbia has 60 miles of pathways, and a few developments outside the planned community also have paths. Slack said committee members walked or drove each one, and her personal conclusion was that some are safe, some are not.
Committee member Natalie T. Harvey said she felt parents could take some simple steps to ensure their children's safety by forming car pools or "walking pools."
The walking route committee operated without a chairperson, but Slack transmitted the recommendation for a comprehensive pathways study to Robert S. Lazarewicz, director of operations.
The last three members of the committee -- Slack, Harvey and Bonnie Walters -- decided to retire at the end of summer.
"After two years, it was time to get new blood," Slack said.
Lazarewicz said the committee's recommendation would be looked at by the Department of Education staff and the study might involve the county police "or whoever might be appropriate."
He said he did not know whether the study will produce any recommendations for school board action.
Harvey said the committee decided to recommend an overall study after getting many requests for bus transportation for students using pathways and questions about how the distance from a student's house to school was calculated.
Elementary school students who live within 1 mile and high school students who live within 1.5 miles of the school are generally ineligible to ride school buses. School officials calculate the distance using a combination of pathways and sidewalks, said David C. Drown, supervisor of transportation.
The walking route committee's job is to recommend when exceptions to the distance requirements should be granted because of safety considerations.
Harvey, a grandmother, said she felt the pathways were safe, but should be painted with directional signs.
"The problem is the pathways are about 20 years old, and when they were built, the trees were smaller," Harvey said. "They're perfectly safe, but it would help to know where you are."
Faced with the safety concerns at Oakland Mills High School in 1988, the walking route committee came up with the idea for the bus "lottery" that became a partial solution in the 1989-1990 school year.
Student drivers could give up their bus seats, which were then offered to student walkers who wanted bus transportation.
This year, Principal Sue Ann Tabler said students who seek parking permits will be required to forfeit bus seats, although rising gas prices may reduce the number of permit applicants.
"It seemed during the summer that the lottery was a good option," Tabler said. "I still think it's an option, but given the price of gas, people may think twice before they give up their seats on the bus."
In the spring of the 1989-1990 school year, 16 families living on Sandchain Road signed a petition asking for bus transportation for their children to Oakland Mills High School.
The school transportation staff ruled the students ineligible. One parent then took the issue to the Owen Brown Village Board in August. Board chairman Marilyn Newhouse said she contacted Superintendent Michael E.
Hickey, who said he could not provide a bus for the Sandchain Road residents.
School officials are currently recruiting new members for the walking route committee.