Windsor Farm stuck with late school dismissal Parents at elementary complain about safety

September 27, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

County school board members say they can do nothing about a 4 p.m. dismissal time at Windsor Farm Elementary even though parents are complaining that children as young as 5 should not be out on dark, wintry afternoons.

"This is not a logical time for them to come to the board," Joseph Foster, a board member, said of the parents. "They need to come during the budget hearings next year."

Windsor Farm in Annapolis and Meade Heights Elementary on Fort Meade are the only two county schools that close so late in the afternoon. Students at the other 74 elementary schools go home at staggered times from 2: 20 p.m. to 3: 45 p.m.

Meade Heights parents have not complained to the board.

In June, the board voted to change the schools' hours, which had been 9 a.m. to 3: 15 p.m., as part of a shift in the county school bus schedule that members hoped would save $80,000. The board, arguing that county officials did not budget enough to make the school system work, made $9 million in cuts for the academic year.

Parents say that by 4: 20 p.m., it is dark, and their children must walk to and from bus stops in neighborhoods with no sidewalks.

"These are not traditional hours for an elementary school," said Community Action Council President Chris Hilton.

Winship Wheatley, who coordinates county school bus transportation, said that by 4: 14 p.m., children are loaded onto buses and on their way home. Ninety percent of the students are home within 20 minutes, the rest by 5 p.m.

"The loading and departing times are always slow in the beginning of the year," Wheatley said. "So in two weeks, the children could be on the bus and gone by 4: 10 p.m. So we expect to see some improvements here."

Hilton and Principal Wayne Bark have been meeting with parents to come up with a strategy to reinstate the old hours. They are meeting again at 6 p.m. Oct. 13 at the school.

"We are just in the brainstorming mode now," Hilton said. "We are trying to figure out how to approach the school board."

School starts at 9: 45 a.m., much later than most parents have to be at work, he said. The start time poses a day care problem for families in which both parents work. And because students are still in school, they cannot participate in after-school activities that are not school-sponsored and begin at 3: 30 or 4 p.m., Hilton said.

Foster said the parents will have to lobby the board, the county executive and council to get transportation money put back in the budget. He said their best selling point is the safety issue. Parents must be able to present to the board a strong case that shows how the 4 p.m. dismissal time is a danger. He said the parents should attend public operating budget hearings by the board and County Council in February.

"The day-care issue, well, you have day care at one end of the day or the other," he said. "There is day care out there, and I think that is a problem that can be fixed. The after-school activities, they would have to document which ones and who is running them and maybe that can be taken care of also."

School board member Paul Rudolph said the board would not have changed the school hours if it thought safety was an issue. "But we can revisit this next year," he said. "It's a matter of money. If we get more money to put more buses on the road, we can do it."

Pub Date: 9/27/98

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