Managing Print Editor
16 May, 2023
On March 30th, Howard County revealed that there would be a change in the walking area for some schools during the 2023-2024 school year.
Policy 5200 expanded the walking area in multiple Howard County schools, making it so many students will be losing their buses for the 2023-2024 school year.
The policy increased the walking area to one and half miles for middle schools, and two miles for high schools. While elementary school walking zones were not increased, changes were made to bus services. Policy 5200 states that the goal is “providing transportation services to students in a safe and efficient manner.” Thirty-nine schools will be affected, six of them being high schools. The high schools affected by the change include Wilde Lake, River Hill, Oakland Mills, Mount Hebron, Hammond, Centennial, and Atholton. An estimated 1200 high school students will be affected by the change, according to Nevin. Schools that do not have sidewalks or safe walking paths are exempt from the changes. For affected schools, all students who live in a two mile radius will have to walk to their respective schools. It also requires parents who live outside of the walking radius to register for a bus. This sparked controversy amongst students, faculty, and parents alike, with concern over traffic around Atholton, inconvenience for both students and parents, and student safety being raised.
“I was disappointed but I was also expecting it. HCPSS doesn’t care about what happens to the kids. It doesn’t bother them that little kids might be walking on dangerous paths,” said Rachel Coutts, whose child is entering the fifth grade at Talbott Springs Elementary School.
Parents were disappointed by the decision to expand the walking area around many schools. Losing the convenience of school provided transportation was upsetting to many. “The bus service was helpful because I didn’t have to drive my kids to school or home, so I was able to save time,” said Coutts. High school students also do not find the idea of waking up early to walk two miles to school particularly appealing either.
“I was sad that I would have to walk. It’s easier to take a bus,” said Atholton freshman Bennett Gullion. He also mentioned that as an athlete, he would have to carry equipment to and from school. Students who live in the new walking zone will have to walk “forty to forty-five minutes” according to Mr. Richman.The neighborhoods affected in the Atholton community are
He added that there will also be a decent amount of students who will get rides to school, which will only increase the infamous traffic problem that surrounds Atholton.
Coutts said, “HCPSS knows that most parents won’t let their kids walk. They know that most parents will drive their kids.” Atholton’s drop off lane is notorious for being jammed with traffic. The massive line of cars has been a reason why students are late, and the lack of buses has the potential to exacerbate the issue. Atholton administration is well aware of this, and Mr. Richman has raised the issue in a meeting between county administrators. “I’ve asked them to start work now with the police to have patrol people here to help direct traffic in the mornings.”
For those students who will be receiving buses, they will have to register for them. The bus registration process is mandatory for students who live outside of the walking area to receive transportation to school. Parents must register their children by June 1st, 2023. In an FAQ page, HCPSS explained that the purpose of registration was to assure “more efficient and agile transportation operations.” There will be times where families can change their transportation requests, although the frequency and times of these periods have not yet been determined.
Some have theorized a possible cause for the new policy being the national shortage of bus drivers. This is an issue that has affected Atholton heavily, with buses being late or not showing up at all being a common occurrence for students. Mr. Richman said there are “entirely too many” incidents of buses never showing up or being late, much to his annoyance. “Every time it happens, I get irritated because I believe that as a school system, we have an obligation to transport kids that are supposed to be transported; to get them to school safely and on time and get them home safely in the afternoon. When they don’t do it, the Office of Transportation hears very loudly from me.” This belief has not been confirmed by the Board of Education or the Office of Transportation. However, Mr. Richman added “it’s one way to solve the bus shortage.”
According to Nevin, “changes to Policy 5200 have been in progress since May of 2022 after going through a committee of accordance with Board of Education policy. Some portions had delayed implementation to coincide with the new school start times.”
Policy 5200 is an attempt to improve Howard County’s current transportation system and only the future will tell if it will work.