Parents to protest 'walk' plan

August 30, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Parents at Waterloo Elementary School say they will appeal Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's refusal to allow bus service for about 70 students who will have to walk through a wooded pathway that parents say is unsafe.

"I'm very disgusted," said Liz Williams, one of the Kendall Ridge parents who plans to appeal to the school board.

"My daughter's safety is at risk. I will not disagree [the pathway] is attractive and serene, but for a 5-year-old, it's scary and it's dark. And it's very hidden," she added.

At issue is a newly built pathway between the school and the Kendall Ridge neighborhood that winds around tall, lush trees, follows a small creek and goes past a back lot of the county's Bureau of Utilities, which has erected a fence to keep students away.

School transportation officials last month decided to stop school bus service for students in a section of Kendall Ridge off Tamar Drive after the Columbia Association built the pathway connecting their homes to the school.

Last week, despite complaints from parents about the path's safety, Dr. Hickey refused to renew bus service for those children, all of whom live within a one-mile radius of the school.

Under school system regulations, no bus service is provided to elementary or middle school students unless they live more than a mile from school. No bus service is provided to high school students unless they live more than 1 1/2 miles from the school.

Several parents have written letters to school administrators, telling them not to let their children walk home on the path. Others have set up makeshift car pools for their children, or have arranged day care in a way that would make children eligible to ride the bus.

"It's just too iffy to let my child walk," said Chrissy Mayhew, another parent. "They have not addressed the issue properly."

Dr. Hickey, who walked the route last week, said the path seemed safe for students. He cited similar assessments by a police officer and a county engineer, both of whom sit on the student walking route committee that reviews parents' appeals.

"Other than the isolation and any visible home, it's not a treacherous area by any means," he said.

"It's not worse than, and in most cases better than, maybe 20 pathways in the county that have been used as pathways for years by elementary school children," Dr. Hickey said.

Parents are often concerned when school bus service is discontinued, Dr. Hickey said.

"Whenever we have a new pathway open, it doesn't matter where it is or what it looks like, parents express concern for their children," he said.

"We're a community built around pathways as a means of transport. If we were to rule out pathways as a way to school, we're looking at several million dollars in transportation alone," he added.

He said that although parents generally prefer to have children take the bus than have them walk, "in trying to balance overall what the school system can and should do . . . we feel this is a reasonable walkway for the children."

The pathway is part of the Columbia Association's two-year plan to lay 24,000 feet of walkway in the Kendall Ridge neighborhood near Long Reach. The final phase is a 5,000-foot pathway that connects Tamar Drive, Good Hunters Ride and Snowden River Parkway.

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