ELLICOTT CITY — Some parents in Howard County are objecting to the Board of Education’s new student transportation policy, saying it is not safe nor equitable.
The new system, known as policy 5200, took effect at the beginning of the school year and cut bus transportation to thousands of students. The school system said earlier this year that the “non-transportation area” changes were a piece of a puzzle to aid the logistics of the new staggered start times.
At a meeting Thursday night, parents complained that there hadn’t been a public hearing about this portion of the plan, Neighbors for Buses Founder Corinne Happel said.
“It’s not safe. It’s not equitable,” Happel said. “It makes it harder for children to get to school.”
More than 2,300 students remain ineligible for transportation during the 2023-2024 school year, according to a 60-day report published by Superintendent Michael Martirano and his administration earlier this month.
“To be honest, this is extremely frustrating,” parent Rebecca Jensen said. “We should not have to continue to take time away from our personal lives to try to help you fix this. We have our own jobs to do. We ask you to do yours.”
Many people who spoke before the board Thursday expressed safety concerns about the extended walk zones that ranged from students who may face inclement weather this winter to violent crime.
The same 60-day transportation report noted there had been an increase in unidentified people who allegedly approached walkers.
So far this year, a total of three instances have been reported in comparison to one incident that happened during the 2022-2023 school year.
Last week, the principal of Centennial High School in Ellicott City said two students had been robbed at gunpoint in separate incidents while walking home from school around 3 p.m.
Others who spoke before the board said the expansion to nontransportation areas undermined the purpose of the tiered, later school start times, which aimed to provide children more time to sleep.
Parent Linda Adams said in some cases, students have to walk 40 minutes or more to reach their campus.
“It is unreasonable for many teens and tweens to walk up to two miles to school with heavy backpacks, instruments and sports equipment,” Adams said.
The transportation report found the tardy rate for students who are no longer eligible for bus services nearly doubled from 3.2% during 2022-2023 to 5.9% so far in the 2023-2024 school year.
Although the agenda item was designated as a public hearing, neither Martirano nor the board members spoke about the policy following the conclusion of the public hearing.