Getting children to school safely

July 26, 1994

Crime in the area surrounding Columbia's Kendall Ridge neighborhood is perhaps not as rampant as some Howard County residents believe. Police report that for the first six months of 1994, there were no reports of drug violations, two reports of theft and four assaults (none involving children). Those statistics say something about the potential for danger should elementary school students from that neighborhood have to walk a wooded pathway less than a mile to Waterloo Elementary School.

Now that the path has been installed, officials are considering whether to discontinue bus service for about 70 Waterloo students who live in Kendall Ridge. But parents contend that the paths are unsafe and believe that the bus route should be continued.

On the one hand, there is ample evidence to conclude that the fears of parents are overblown. Besides favorable crime statistics, students all over Columbia use the city's path system each day to get to school, overwhelmingly without incident.

However -- and this is a major caveat -- the odds of a child's being harmed, while small, must be weighed heavily against any potential for danger. When the chance for a mishap is real, school officials ought to respond in a way that protects every child and reassures the parents.

Columbia's pathways are known for their aesthetic beauty, but they have also been the site of numerous sexual assaults and robberies over the years. It would be irresponsible for a community that warns against unsafe travel along its paths to send young children out unprotected along those same routes. Where parents can guarantee their child's safety to and from school, there is no issue. But when questions or concerns arise, they must be addressed. It's not enough for the school system to discontinue a bus route with the excuse that strict rules dictate when a child's home is close enough to walk to school.

Crime in our communities is neither generated nor solved by the school system; schools can only respond as the need arises and only in limited fashion. Just as surely, we can say that crime that goes unchecked in the streets will one day infiltrate the schools, as we have seen in urban communities across the nation.

Crime in Columbia's Kendall Ridge neighborhood or in any community must be a top priority for all institutions -- police, the schools and the family. The real answer for Kendall Ridge is not just a bus, but a safer community.

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