Saying speeding cars would endanger children walking to school, hundreds of parents demanded bus transportation for students who live less than a mile from an elementary school to open in Fountain Green this fall.
But some members of the school board, which has delayed a decision on the request until at least next month, call bus transportation unnecessary for children who would walk less than a mile through a residential neighborhood with sidewalks.
School officials also said that if they provided buses for children who live near Fountain Green Elementary, they would have to do the same for all county children, which would add $2.3 million to the annual $11.5 million transportation tab. A 30-year-old policy stipulates that elementary students who live less than a mile from school should walk, but the school system has made a few exceptions.
Parents who live in the Greenridge II development behind the school, on Route 543 a few miles east of Bel Air, vow to lobby aggressively to sway the school system to make another exception. They have gathered more than 430 signatures on a petition demanding that an estimated 240 children now ineligible for bus transportation be granted it.
Paula Carmody, who lives behind the school, said so many cars whiz in and out of the neighborhood that children need bus transportation. Construction vehicles, including dump trucks, also enter and leave the neighborhood regularly, as developers build more homes.
"I have a 4 1/2 -year-old child, and it took us over 25 minutes to walk to that school and we crossed four streets," Mrs. Carmody said. "Some children, just as young, will have to walk for more than 30 minutes -- unsupervised."
Parents said they have counted as many as 300 cars a day driving through the community, many of them speeding.
Unless the school system provides bus service, most parents plan to drive their children to school, which would worsen traffic in an already congested area, Mrs. Carmody said.
She joined about 20 other parents who urged the school board Monday to provide bus service.
"Mothers don't stay at home anymore to see their children safely to school. Children walking alone are innocent prey," parent Laura Mathieu told the school board. More than 20 parents from the community attended the meeting and waited for over two hours for a chance to speak.
The parents' pleas, however, failed to convince school board members or the superintendent.
Keith Williams, a board member, noted that hundreds of students, from kindergartners to seniors, cross Joppa Farm Road, a heavily traveled road in Joppatowne.
"There are children walking to school in other areas of the county which are much more congested," he said. "If we authorize buses for these children, we must be prepared to do the same for other students."
Added Superintendent Ray R. Keech: "It's clear we can look at any school where children walk and find situations that are not nearly this good. This is as safe as it gets."
Already, the school system faces a shortage of buses, said Paul E. Welch, the school system's transportation supervisor. To allay parents' fears, Mr. Welch said he had recommended a crossing guard at the neighborhood's busiest intersection.