More School Buses: Knees Jerk Again

COMMENT

June 25, 1995|By KEVIN THOMAS

From the category of sad and predictable comes the pledge from the Howard County PTA Council that its first survey on school safety will be repeated annually.

As sure as day follows night, this means the council intends to use this survey whenever possible to push for more buses to transport students.

This is because PTA officials believe their questionnaire reveals the depths of parents' fears about their children's safety when they walk to school along county roads and pathways.

And let's not forget that the survey was spawned on the heels of a spate of protests last year from parents requesting more transportation -- protests that the board correctly resisted.

But while the temptation will be great to make the results mean something they do not, I think the survey makes the case for something other than buses.

It would be a shame if it were used to avoid the real lessons it teaches.

The demand for more buses is one of the small ways in which knee-jerk reactions have taken over so much of our cultural lives.

If there is a problem that needs addressing, we want -- indeed, insist -- that government step in and solve it. This is especially true of our schools, which are called on far too often to fulfill every role in our children's lives.

It is a source of great irony for me to live in a community that elects conservative officials to run its institutions and then expects that its every demand can be fulfilled at the public trough.

Aren't the Republicans the ones who champion the notion of getting government out of people's lives?

Apparently that only means the people we feel don't deserve the assistance.

Frankly, I'd rather see the school system's scarce resources funneled into classroom instruction.

Not to be flippant about it, but how would those parents who worry about bullies on pathways and ice on the sidewalks feel if they lived in New York City or somewhere where snow is on the ground much of the school year?

Yes, there are hardships, but a lot of the complaints coming from parents in Howard County come across as the laments of the privileged.

Yet, the PTA survey does reveal a real problem that can't be easily dismissed.

With so many households where both parents work, fears about children's safety are real. Too many children are on their own too often before and after school and must fend for themselves. And while close to half of the parents who responded to the survey said they transport their kids to school themselves, for the other half, occasional concerns are understandable.

Still, these are concerns that can be addressed without requiring the school system to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars more into transportation.

Many parents already do these things, but many others should consider them: Hire a baby-sitter. Organize a pool of neighbors to take turns accompanying kids to school. If all else fails, perhaps at least one parent should consider re-arranging his or her work hours -- or quitting altogether.

That may seem harsh, even impossible for some families. But don't we expect to make sacrifices where our children are concerned?

I have yet to hear the case that justifies forcing all taxpayers to carry the burden of making sure parents feel comfortable about how their kids get to school.

Thankfully, the survey showed that parents generally feel their children are safe while on school property.

Let's not make unreasonable demands that would drain resources from other programs.

The school system's current policy on providing transportation to students is a good one.

It provides bus service only for those elementary students who live more than a mile from school, and middle and high school students who live more than a mile and a half away.

And it does provide for discretion in cases where real danger can be proven.

But to simply react to the fears that all parents feel at one time or another by providing buses whenever a concern is raised would hardly be prudent, particularly in these economic times.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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