1-mile bus rule questioned at elementary school

September 25, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

Every morning and afternoon, Patty Baker puts her 2-year-old toddler in a stroller and walks her other three children almost a mile to Emmorton Elementary School.

It's a routine they will continue during hot Indian summer days and rain squalls, and in snow and ice.

Mrs. Baker doesn't feel comfortable letting her children, who are 6, 7 and 10, go the distance by themselves. They are not safe, she said, because of a lack of sidewalks in her Valley View neighborhood, increased traffic in the area, wooded areas, and curves and hills.

"These dangers are found every day that I'm walking with my children," Mrs. Baker said.

She and 20 other parents presented their concerns last week to Harford County School Superintendent Ray R. Keech and members of the school board at the Bel Air school.

Mrs. Baker and six families in Valley View joined forces early last month and requested a waiver from the one-mile transportation rule that would allow their children to ride a bus to school.

In Harford County, elementary school students who live less than a mile from school are required to walk there unless the school system deems the roadways hazardous and grants an exemption. In middle and high schools, the distance is 1 1/2 miles for walkers.

School officials denied the Emmorton parents' petition to bus their children after visiting the roads and finding no inordinate safety issues. The parents continued to pursue the issue with the school board.

"It's too long of a walk for a kindergarten student," parent Angela Smolenski said.

"It's too long of a walk for a fifth-grader," added Sandy Kenny, who said her home on Deadora Road is exactly one mile from the school. "It takes him [my son] 35 minutes to walk to school."

The parents also noted that the bus, which picks up children more than a mile from school, has available seats on it.

"Adding our 11 students to this bus will cost the Harford County public school system nothing," the parents said in a letter to Dr. Keech and the board.

At Monday's hearing, the board promised the parents that it would issue a decision on busing at Emmorton at its Oct. 10 meeting at Southampton Middle School.

Myra Estes, a member of the Harford County Council of PTAs board, also pleaded to the school board: "The one-mile rule is 30 years old. There have been many changes. . . . We recommend a countywide ad hoc committee to examine the one-mile rule."

The board said it plans to examine the busing rule for all elementary schools this year. It is an issue that is being debated more frequently.

"In recent years, with society changing, parents are more concerned about their children walking" to school, said schools LTC spokesman Donald R. Morrison. "We as a school system understand parents' fears and concerns. The problem is, there is no magic pot of money."

Mr. Morrison estimated the cost of busing all elementary students at $2 million, which would include the purchase of new buses and maintenance fees.

"The $2 million would come out of operational funds, which would come out of the classroom [funds]," he said.

"At Emmorton Elementary . . . there are sidewalks and crossing guards. It is safer than other areas in the county."

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