Oakland Mills Middle School parents are circulating a petition asking school transportation officials to rescind plans to start classes half an hour earlier next fall.
Parents cited concerns ranging fromchildren's safety to lack of notice about the scheduling change at last week's school board meeting. But board members replied that staffmembers who schedule buses are responsible for setting school opening and closing times.
Late last week, the transportation staff suggested a compromise school day of 8:10 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. for Oakland Mills Middle. That is10 minutes later than the schedule change proposed in April.
But PTA President Brenda Hensley said she did not believe the 10-minute difference would satisfy parents worried about their children crossingheavy morning traffic on Kilimanjaro Road as they walk to school.
She said her family would not be affected because her children ride the school bus, but as PTA president, "I just want to make sure most of the parents feel comfortable. If they have concerns about their children's safety, I think the PTA needs to be involved."
Nearly 70 percent of Oakland Mills Middle students walk to school, Hensley said.
Kilimanjaro Road, where both Oakland Mills Middle and High schools are located, is a major collector street, said engineer George E. Frangos of the county public works department's traffic engineering division.
A collector street links less-traveled residential streets with major highways.
Traffic on Kilimanjaro Road peaks between 7and 8 a.m. and 5 and 6 p.m., Frangos said. A December 1988 traffic count showed 678 vehicles an hour in the morning.
Parent Delana Stanfield said her daughter, who walks to Oakland Mills High, finds it difficult to cross Kilimanjaro Road in the morning. Her younger child will walk to Oakland Mills Middle in the fall.
"We're very concerned as to how all this is going to be accomplished safely without a crossing guard," Stanfield said.
She organized the petition drive with Hensley, and said parents gathered about 150 signatures between last weekend and Tuesday.
The petition will go to Robert S. Lazarewicz, director of operations, who is scheduled to return from vacation Monday. The parents hope to influence Lazarewicz to restore the 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. schedule in his presentation to the board July 29.
The school transportation staff made the scheduling change to get maximum use of current buses rather than adding a bus, reported DavidC. Drown, transportation supervisor.
If one-third of county students each went to high, middle and elementary schools, each bus would be assigned one high, one middle and one elementary school trip, Drown said. The population ishighest at the elementary level, so transportation officials shift opening and closing times to make more buses available for elementary trips.
Bus drivers who take students to Oakland Mills Middle School may also be assigned two elementary school trips or two middle and one elementary school trips, Drown explained.
He said the staff was able to offer a 10-minute-later starting time by reducing the standard half-hour "window" between bus trips to 20 minutes for Oakland Mills Middle.
Middle school parent James J. Oremland said he thought excluding parents from the decision-making process was a serious mistake. "We didn't find out until June," about the time change, he said.
Board Chairman Deborah D. Kendig blamed former Principal Marchmont A. Girod, who retired at the end of the school year, for failure to notify the parents.
"My parents were notified in writing as soon as I heard of it," Girod said Tuesday.
Hesaid notice went out in a school newsletter in May and he also discussed the change in opening and closing times at a meeting with outgoing and incoming PTA officers in May.
Hensley said Girod had mentioned the possible opening and closing time change to her several months ago when he told her of his plans to retire. She said she did not know the change was definite until parents who had heard of it throughword of mouth began calling her two weeks ago.
Kendig said that although opening and closing times are not a voting issue, the board could return a schedule to the staff and ask for changes. "We don't hold a public hearing and vote on it because to do that for 50 schools,we'd never get through," she said.