The Howard County PTA Council is opening a Pandora's box by insisting that officials change a county school system policy on busing students.
Specifically, the council wants the Board of Education to define what it considers an "acceptable level of safety" when it decides which children to bus to school. Currently, the policy is to transport elementary students when they live more than a mile from school, unless the path they must walk is considered unsafe. Middle and high school students are bused if they live more than 1.5 miles from school.
In addition to asking the board to spell out what it considers unsafe, the PTA Council is also launching its own survey of county schools to determine the safety of walking paths used by school children. The council is also considering recommending bus service for all students -- kindergarten through 12th grade.
Reviewing the system's policy is a rational response to concerns at some county elementary schools, where officials have denied buses to students who can walk newly laid pedestrian paths. But to suggest that all of the system's students be bused is preposterous, and opens the system to financial disaster.
Current policy makes the system responsible for the safety of students while they are on a school bus. For those who walk to school, the school system is not responsible until they reach school grounds. Changing those rules is at the heart of what the PTA Council is pursuing. They need to reconsider this approach now.
Parents, naturally, should be concerned for the safety of their children at all times. But they cannot thrust all of the responsibility for safety on the system. With all of the priorities confronting the county to simply maintain a level of service, adding many more buses would be a misguided use of precious resources.
Parents involved in this issue need to consider other alternatives, including the possibility that they must take more responsibility themselves. If the pathway their child walks is overgrown and seems unsafe, they should ask the Columbia Association that maintains the path to clear it. If both parents work, hire a babysitter or arrange with a neighbor to see to it that the child is escorted to school. Every extra bus outside the schools is that many fewer computers and books inside.