As nearly 38,000 Harford County Public Schools students get ready to start classes for the 2013-14 school year on Monday, Aug. 26, a number of changes in school bus routes and policies have taken effect since last year.
School bus schedules and routes for the 2013-14 school year were released last week and can be found on the school system's website and in print in the Wednesday, Aug. 21 edition of The Aegis.
Among the changes are consolidating some stops into a single location, the elimination of door-to-school pickup and drop-off for countywide high school magnet program students and elimination of previous waivers that permitted some students to ride a bus when they would otherwise be required to walk because of the proximity of their homes to their schools.
Another change involves Bakerfield Elementary in Aberdeen and three elementary schools in the greater Bel Air area – Red Pump, Forest Lakes and Bel Air – where classes have been moved to a so-called Tier 4 schedule, meaning the school day will start later and end later than last year.
The various changes are designed to save money, as school officials deal with what they say is a fiscal crunch precipitated by the county government's decision to fund about $1.5 million of a nearly $20 million increase the school system requested for its budget covering the new school year. Since they were made public earlier this summer, the bus service changes have provoked criticism from parents and students and protests at school board meetings.
A school system spokesperson said previously that approximately 33,700 students were provided with transportation last school year, a number that could undergo a significant swing in either direction as a result of the service changes and reductions. For instance, according to the school system, 1,045 students who lived within a mile of a secondary school or within a mile and a half of an elementary school received waivers to ride the bus last year because of such safety factors as no sidewalks or crossing guards at busy intersections.
As a result of all the changes, school officials are urging parents to review the routes and pay close attention to stop locations and bus numbers, as they most likely have changed from previous years.
Middle and high school parents especially will want to pay close attention to the consolidated stop locations, according to a school system news release issued last week. In some neighborhoods, several stops from previous years have been consolidated into a single stop.
A "depot" bus stop system for school bus transportation is in place for all students attending public school system magnet programs, the school system release continued. Students attending the Science and Mathematics Academy at Aberdeen High School, the Global Studies Program/International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at Edgewood High School and the Natural Resources and Agricultural Science Magnet Program at North Harford High School were to be contacted by postcard with their bus information by Monday, Aug. 19.
Students attending the Alternative Education Program and Harford Technical High School will use the consolidated bus stop system and will also be notified of their approximate pick-up time and location by a mailed postcard.
John Archer School and any elementary pre-kindergarten program students will be contacted by their bus drivers, as will all other students riding a special needs bus, both in county and out-of-county.
Elementary school bus routes are planned so that a maximum number of children are picked up and discharged at the nearest stop to their homes, the school system release continued. Bus drivers will inform the children of the designated stops during the first few days of school.
The morning time for each bus is the estimated time of the first stop the bus will make on its morning run.
This time may vary several minutes during the first few days of school until each driver is able to establish a definitive schedule, HCPS said. Students should plan to be at the bus stop at least five minutes before the scheduled pick-up time.
Students attending the Alternative Education Program should plan to be at their designated bus stop at least 10 minutes before the scheduled pick-up time.
Students attending magnet programs should also plan to be at their bus depot at least 10 minutes before the scheduled pick-up time.
The student's designated depot stop is their home high school in their attendance area or an alternate authorized high school depot stop, the school system release explained. Students who plan to use bus transportation are encouraged to ride the bus beginning the first day of school to facilitate the establishment of the time schedule and the busload.
The afternoon return time to home for each bus may be later at the beginning of the school year to accommodate students adjusting to new school settings. Once the schedule has been established, there will be a normal drop-off time for each student.
Since routes are based on estimated fall enrollments, school officials remind parents and students to expect minor adjustments in bus loads and schedules during the first weeks of school to alleviate any overcrowded buses.
The Pupil Transportation Rules will be distributed to each student on the first day of school and discussed in class. Parents are urged to review the rules with their children, which can be found at www.hcps.org and in the 2013-14 Handbook & Academic Calendar.
Questions or concerns related to specific bus stops or route schedules should be directed to the HCPS Transportation Department at 410-638-4092.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun