Three Bel Air-area Girl Scouts not only observed Monday's meeting of the Harford County Board of Education as part of getting a citizenship badge, they became active participants by telling board members about the difficulties they face as students at elementary schools with fourth-tier busing schedules.
The school board also discussed new policies in setting the annual school calendar, approved a booster club purchase of a new baseball scoreboard at Fallston High School and honored Harford's two latest state championship teams.
Bel Air Elementary School students Brooke Santiago and Molly Abrams, and Red Pump Elementary student Ally Stump, who are members of Troop 993, spoke during the public comment portion of Monday's board business meeting.
Troop leader Lisa Spelker introduced the girls, who, along with their fellow troop members, are working to earn their Model Citizen Badge.
Spelker said the Scouts are required to "observe a governing body in action," and take part in "mock government meetings" about pressing local issues, such as those affecting students at fourth-tier schools with opening and closing times that are later than other schools.
Schools such as Bel Air and Red Pump were put on the fourth-tier schedule at the beginning of this school year, as Harford County Public Schools officials revamped bus routes to save money.
The fourth tier schools, of which there are seven, begin their day at 9:30 a.m. and end it 4 p.m. The other 26 elementary schools operate on a 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. schedule.
Parents and students have criticized board members since they approved several busing changes last June, including adding more elementary schools to the fourth-tier schedule, instituting "depot stops" for high school students in magnet programs and making some route consolidations. School officials also eliminated all waivers for students who are within the prescribed walking distance of their schools but had been using school buses because of issues such as potentially unsafe walking conditions.
Parents and students have complained at several board meetings that, collectively, the changes have resulted in more students walking to school or being dropped off by their parents instead of taking the bus.
The Girl Scouts who spoke Monday read from prepared remarks.
Brooke noted children have less time for homework and must rush to make it to after-school activities. She said "third-tier students do not have to rush as much.
"The late start also makes it hard for our parents to get to work on time," Ally said. "We often have to be taken to other people's houses in the morning for those extra 30 minutes, or we have to stand outside the school in the cold."
The girls also noted the dangers of crossing busy Bel Air streets, such as East Broadway, and a lack of parking for parents who are picking up or dropping off.
Molly took on another controversial topic that has angered parents and students this year – activity fees.
She said Bel Air Elementary could only field one Destination Imagination team because of the fees this year.
Destination Imagination is a poplar activity among students of all grades; they form teams and come up with creative solutions to problems involving STEM (science technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, as well as the arts and community service.
"Our teachers did not want to choose only eight students, so they decided not to have DI at all," she said. "We really miss it."
The girls also invited the board members to Bel Air Elementary's upcoming Patriot Assembly, scheduled for May 15.
Patrick Spicer, the school system's legal counsel, introduced a proposed policy change to the board Monday that, if approved, would take the responsibility of making recommendations regarding the school year calendar away from an ad hoc committee of school officials and people from the community.