Walk-zone blues: parents protest transportation changes
At the end of the school year, Loudoun County Public Schools notified 3,741 parents that after a reevaluation of their neighborhoods, their children would no longer be receiving bus services.
“This is scary,” Patrice Carrillo, the mother of a rising kindergartner told the School Board during the public hearing portion of the Board's June 25 meeting.
School Board members requested school staff reevaluate walk-zones during the re-zoning process. Board members were dismayed to see some walk-zones hadn't been adjusted in years and some were not following policy 6-21.
Under policy 6-21, transportation is provided for secondary students more than one mile from school or for primary students more than eight-tenths of a mile. However, exceptions can be made if there are “unusual hazards.”
“We wanted to implement a policy that is already on the books,” said School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian), who also sits on the Boards Health, Safety, Wellness and Transportation Committee. “There shouldn't be a body that picks and chooses what policies to enforce.”
Rose also noted that having more students walk will increase general wellness and provide health benefits.
Though Rose said that cost savings have not been confirmed by cutting bus services, any saved money would be welcomed.
“That would be a bonus,” Rose said.
Still, many parents are hoping the board will reconsider its decision.
“I feel like they made this decision before investigating all of the rippling effects,” Terri Azie said.
Azie, a mother with students at Smarts Mill and Tuscarora, created a Facebook group shortly after being notified of the change.
At the time of publication, the group, called Bus Cancellations for THS & SMMS, LCPS 2013-2014, had 50 followers, as parents sought tips on appeals, lobbying politicians and School Board members and as an efficient way to disseminate information.
Azie' has an assortment of concerns with the new walk-zones, including having kids walking along the heavily congested King Street and Battlefield Parkway, having kids walk on Dry Hollow Road, which Azie said has no sidewalks, and the ramifications of having more cars on the road has parents drive their kids to schools.
“No one's talking to each other about what they're going to do to mitigate the negative effects of not having a school bus to transport kids,” Azie said. “This is all about money; it's all about cutting the budget and they're putting our kids safety at risk.”
Some of the new walk-zones have been revised after appeals from parents and the appeal process is ongoing. Staff has been walking some of the appealed routes and School Board member Bill Fox (Leesburg) posted on Facebook that he would also like to walk some of the debated paths.
Rose cautioned that some of the new walk-zones may not even be implemented if additional crossing guards aren't hired.
The Health, Safety, Wellness and Transportation committee will discuss crossing guards and walk zones at its Aug. 5 meeting.