Magnet program bus changes protested [letter]

August 01, 2013|Letter to The Aegis

The following is an excerpt of comments presented earlier this week to the Harford County Board of Education and other public officials. A copy was provided for publication.

On behalf of the students who attend Magnet programs at the Science and Math Academy at Aberdeen High School, the Global Studies Program/International Baccalaureate Program at Edgewood High School, and the Natural Resources and Agricultural Science Program at North Harford High School, we urge you to rescind, or at the very least postpone, your decision to impose a depot stop transportation system.

Our request is based on several factors, detailed below.

First and foremost, you have violated Harford County Public Schools Board of Education Policy. Policy Number 20-0008-000 (Student Transportation - Bus Routes and Stops) explicitly states, "If a request for a material modification to an existing bus route or stop is made, all affected persons shall be provided notice and opportunity for input." Families impacted by the Board's decision to implement a depot bus stop transportation system were not notified of the Board's intent to do so prior to the decision being finalized. Further:

General Counsel Patrick Spicer did not present the proposed policy change to the Board of Education before an open meeting during the 2012-2013 school year.

Families were individually notified via letters dated July 17, only after the Board finalized its decision to impose the depot stop transportation system. The letters informed families that, "In May 2013, the County Council approved the county budget, which resulted in a shortfall of $20.2 million in the Board of Education's previously approved budget. As a result, revenue-generating strategies, as well as many expenditure reductions, were considered and several were adopted in order to save teaching positions and minimally impact the students in the classroom."

In addition to this policy violation, when students applied and were accepted to each of these Magnet programs, including incoming Freshmen, they accepted with the understanding that, "Any student attending a magnet program outside of his or her attendance area will be picked up and dropped off at a consolidated bus stop that is within walking distance of his or her home," as noted on http://www.hcps.org prior to the decision to impose the depot stop transportation system.

Furthermore, the 2012-2013 Parent-Student Handbook and Calendar supports this statement. On page 22, under the Magnet Program and Alternative Education Transportation Guidelines, it states, "Stops for developments are located at the entrance of the development."

Also, the Board's decision to establish each magnet student's home high school as the designated depot stop this close to the start of the 2013-2014 school year, and even efforts to provide parents with an opportunity to identify an alternate high school as a depot stop, presents extraordinary hardships for working parents who are unable to arrange transportation to and from the depot stop. For many, the closest high school depot stop is a considerable distance from and in some cases even in the opposite direction of the Magnet program they attend. For others, even selecting a different high school as their children's depot stop presents other challenges, including safety concerns.

As you have heard, or will hear, parents have additional concerns regarding the safety of their children who must remain at the depot stop until they are picked up or may be forced to walk home from the depot stop.

The 2012-2013 Parent-Student Handbook and Calendar also states on page 22 under the Magnet Program and Alternative Education Transportation Guidelines that, "The school needs to have the student's current address and phone number. Changes cannot be given to the Transportation Department or bus driver by the parent, student or guardian."

Will each high school identified as a depot stop accept responsibility for maintaining contact information for each Magnet program student who arrives at the depot stop before and after school? In the event of an emergency before a parent arrives to pick his or her child up, will the school assume liability for addressing the emergency and contacting the parent? Will an administrator or staff member be available when the students arrive at the depot stop in the morning and/or until the last student is picked up at the depot stop?

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