Cuts to Arlington school bus service draw critics


Principal Peter Balas walks a student to his bus at the end of the school day at Mount Vernon Community School on Monday August 6, 2012 in Alexandria, VA. (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Arlington County schools will be cutting transportation service this year for some families, forcing about 120 students who had been bus riders to walk or bike to class — or catch a ride with their parents.

The cuts affect a tiny fraction of the estimated 14,000 students who ride buses: those who live less than a mile from Taylor, Glebe and Campbell elementary schools and those who live less than a mile and a half from Yorktown and Wakefield high schools.

The new policy is drawing protests from parents.

Last school year, Cathy Hinger’s daughter rode the bus to kindergarten at Glebe Elementary. Then Hinger received a letter from the school system about the revised transportation plan. Now, her child will have to walk four-fifths of a mile to school, rain or shine.

“The expectation that a 6-year-old should walk about a mile there and back every day through all kinds of weather is totally unreasonable,” Hinger said.

School officials said the bus service was not revised to save money. Instead, they said, their goal was to make the service more efficient and reduce crowding on buses.

Twelve bus stops were eliminated out of 1,800 countywide, said schools spokesman Frank Bellavia.

Parents who disagree with the new policy can file an appeal, and about 55 families have done so, schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos said.

Some appeals have been successful, she said, but the specific number was not available. “We’re still evaluating the current system and making small adjustments as we need to,” Erdos said.

A number of parents are worried about safety, especially on roads without crosswalks or sidewalks. “Do you really want [children] walking on Lee Highway or George Mason [Drive]?” said Sandy Moore, a Cherrydale resident and mother of a Glebe student. “Those are really busy thoroughfares. It’s worrisome.”

Bellavia said that exceptions will be made for some students to take the bus rather than cross dangerous roads on foot.

School officials said the revisions were intended to address rising enrollment. About 22,700 students are expected to begin classes after Labor Day, Erdos said, up almost 1,000 from last year.

No new school buses were purchased this year, Erdos said, but some routes were changed to account for the growing student population.

Erdos said that the new system will ensure that more students get to class on time. Last year, buses traveling on routes with many stops were delayed in the mornings.

Moore said she believes that the school system did not provide enough notice. Her 10-year-old, a fifth-grader, will have to walk four-fifths of a mile. And the alternative of driving her daughter to Glebe is not appealing, said Moore, a single mother.

“Parents driving to school are going to create more traffic at drop-off areas,” Moore said. “It’s going to backfire.”

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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