Some Baltimore County high school students will be walking rather than getting a yellow bus ride to school this year as a result of a change in school board policy that extended the distance students are expected to get to school on their own two feet.
Some parents seem to be just hearing about the change and have taken to social media to express their displeasure.
Baltimore County Public Schools provide yellow bus transportation to students who live outside a certain radius of their schools. Last year, the school board approved a policy expanding the walking zone from 1.5 miles to 1.7 miles for high schoolers and from 1 mile to 1.5 miles for middle schoolers. The policy takes effect in stages, with high schoolers this year and middle schoolers next year.
When the policy was passed, the school board was told that as many as 5,000 students would be affected, according to Jess Grim, the chief operating officer, but after looking closely at the infrastructure around the schools — whether there were highways, railroad tracks, sidewalks or large roads to cross — the school system reduced the number of students affected to 900.
“We don’t draw a line around the school and say this is 1.7 miles out. This is our non-transport zone,” Grim said. “Instead, we look at the infrastructure, we look at pedestrian and motorist safety.” In doing so, Grim said, they decided to continue to offer yellow bus rides to everyone in 10 high schools, so students at only 15 high schools are affected.
In comparison, Howard and Montgomery counties have set their walking zone limit at 2 miles, Grim said.
Grim said the goal was to make the system more efficient. By decreasing the number of students who have to be picked up, he said, the school system can decrease the number of bus trips and therefore the number of drivers the school system needs to hire.
School systems across the country have experienced a bus driver shortage. Bus drivers have complained of low pay and split schedules that make holding down another job difficult. The Baltimore County school system said Tuesday it had about 50 vacant bus driver positions but that it was staffing all routes for the first day of school.
Because the school system believed it would cause confusion to notify every high school parent of the bus changes, administrators left the task of communicating to parents up to the schools.
Apparently not all the parents got word of the change because complaints began to appear on social media earlier in the week. Some parents found out their children wouldn’t have bus service when they tried to look up bus schedules in the school system’s FOCUS tool.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, Superintendent Myriam Rogers, who recently changed her last name from Yarbrough, said the change in policy was part of a comprehensive transportation study that looked at how the school system could operate its routes more efficiently.
“I’ll tell you this, anytime that parents are surprised by something, you’ll always hear me say that there’s room for us to improve communication. Now, with that being said, based on the number of students that are impacted, I have not heard of any widespread outages with focus,” Rogers said.