Parents argued for bus schedule changes and further consideration of start and departure times for the upcoming school year at the Anne Arundel County school board meeting on Wednesday morning.
Recently, the bus stop times for the 2019 to 2020 school year was posted on the county public schools website. The schedule is part of the new bus routing software that was purchased for $473,000. Introduced last school year, the software created over 15,000 stops as part of an effort to reduce manual labor and inefficiencies while creating a more reliable and safe system.
According to the transportation division, 12 schools will start at 9:30 a.m. or later and will be dismissed at 3:55 p.m. or later.
Both parents and board members shared frustrations on the bus schedules by pointing out concerns for student safety, and learning time and work schedule conflicts for parents who may get to work late after dropping off children.
“We are squandering prime learning time,” said board member Dana Schallheim. Students could lose time for play, extracurricular activities, and hanging out with family, she said.
Board member Candace Antwine said later dismissal times would mean students get off the bus at later times and “it makes it very unsafe," she said.
Alex Szachnowicz, the chief operating officer for the school system, said the bus schedules are still being updated.
“There will be changes that will continue to be made as we analyze it and as we receive feedback,” he explained to the board. The buses will run on Aug. 28 to test out the routes and whether or not there should be updates based on input from members of the community, police or contractors, he said.
Superintendent George Arlotto also added that the bus schedules can change in the school year because of challenges like traffic patterns or construction or based on cross guard needs from the Anne Arundel police, he said.
Three parents with children at Folger McKinsey Elementary, which will start at 9:40 a.m. and end at 4:05 p.m., all expressed concerns about the bus schedules.
One woman said the later dismissal could become a problem for her daughter who is on medication. She said the delayed dismissal means her daughter receives her medication later and it could impact her sleep and meal schedule. Another parent said she kept getting “passed around” on the phone when calling about school bus schedules, calling the experience a “breaking point.”
In addition to the bus routing system, a transportation consultant, Prismatic Services Inc., was hired earlier this year to produce a report on recommendations when it comes to daily school bus routes, school start times and ways to improve the transportation department. Some board members said to wait on the report before making new recommendations for the system, and others said more transportation resources can be added to the next budget.
“We have the political will to make the necessary budget changes,” board member Eric Grannon said. But with more resources to transportation, Grannon added that it means something else in the budget will get changed because “there is not an infinite pool of money,” he said.
Along with an update on school preparation for transportation, department heads spoke about the upcoming school year.
As of the morning meeting, 17 schools will have new principals, 84,000 students have been enrolled, 776 new teachers have been hired and 5,000 new Chromebooks have been bought for schools.
The board also reviewed policies on bullying and bias behavior and will vote on the policies at the next meeting.
For the bullying policy, it encompasses cyberbullying, harassment and intimidation.
The second revision had updated definitions for the terms bullying to focus on someone who “repeatedly uses power in an intentional manner," cyberbullying now incorporates “bullying, intimidation, and harassment in the form of electronic communication” and intimidation is “an intentional action that seriously threatens and induces a sense of fear...," according to the new policy.
A second revision of the bias behavior and language policy was also reviewed by the board. In general, the policy addresses bias behavior and language which covers issues on age, disability, gender, racial/color, and more.
During public comment, suggestions to include restorative justice in the bias behavior policy and to separate it from the conflict resolution within the bullying policy were added for consideration.