School buses to carry all young pupils

Board changes its policy for elementary schools

Safety concerns voiced

Children within a mile will get a ride next year

Carroll County

March 11, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Saying they wanted to make the trip to school even safer for the youngest students, Carroll County school board members approved a new policy last night that will give every elementary school pupil a seat on a school bus.

The change eliminates the rule that children living within a mile of their elementary school must walk or be driven to school by their parents, unless school administrators had determined their walking route was unsafe.

"I think the existing regulations did not provide for our youngest children the safest route to school," said board member Laura K. Rhodes, pointing to traffic and roads that lack sidewalks. "This is a proactive approach to make sure our little ones have a safe way to school."

The new policy - approved on a 4 to 1 vote, with board member Susan G. Holt opposing the measure - will take effect next school year. It will enable about 1,500 elementary pupils now designated as walkers to be eligible to ride a school bus. The change also makes Carroll County only the second school system in Maryland to allow every elementary school pupil to ride a bus to and from school. Calvert County provides transportation for all its students.

Carroll's guidelines will remain unchanged for middle and high school students. Secondary schools will retain what administrators call "non-transported areas" - neighborhoods within a mile of a school that can be reached on roads that school officials determine have "acceptable levels of safety."

Holt voted against the proposal, arguing that parents who thought their children's walking route was unsafe could appeal to have them added to a bus route.

School administrators estimated it will cost $32,000 a year to make room for all elementary children on buses. They say the policy change won't require contracting for more school buses; rather, the money would cover the additional time and mileage to extend the bus routes. But Holt said it is impossible to predict how much the new policy will cost in the future.

"My concern is that you're strapping yourselves and future boards with this policy," she said.

Board President C. Scott Stone disagreed, saying the school system probably spends about $32,000 a year investigating and responding to parents' complaints that their children are not eligible to ride a bus.

The board's vote drew immediate praise from Sharon Kirin, an Eldersburg mother who fought for five months to persuade school officials to allow children from her neighborhood to take the bus to nearby Freedom Elementary rather than walk on roads that parents said were too narrow, curvy and dangerous. In reviewing the families' appeal, Carroll school administrators decided to review the entire policy.

"I'm glad my son will be on the bus and safe," she said after the vote. "They made a lot of other people feel better. ... They're so little, the youngest kids, that it just makes sense to keep all of them safe."

Board members also discussed proposed changes to the 2004-2005 school calendar.

After consecutive years in which inclement weather has forced school officials to cancel classes more often than they had planned, schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker has recommended increasing the number of snow days built into the school calendar from four to seven.

If approved by the board, Ecker's proposal would retain Aug. 30 as the first day of school but push back students' last day from June 10, 2005 to June 16, 2005. The extension would make room for the extra snow days as well as an additional professional day, on Sept. 27, for teachers.

But Barry Potts, president of the Carroll County Education Association, the local teachers' union, asked the board to consider adding the extra day for teachers before classes begin.

In an interview, he endorsed Ecker's suggestion of scheduling six days of work for teachers - Aug. 26, 27, 30 and 31 and Sept. 1 and 2 - before students return for classes rather than giving teachers five days before classes begin and the training day on Sept. 27.

Community members can see the different calendar proposals on the school system's Web site at http://ccpl.carr.org/ccps/

School board members are scheduled to vote April 14 on the proposed schedule changes.

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