Loudoun school buses will be cut to some students beyond walking zones

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Bill Horkan’s name. The story has been corrected.

When Bill Horkan found that his fifth grade daughter would no longer be eligible for bus service in the fall because of cost-cutting efforts by the Loudoun County school board, he went online and measured the distance between his house and her Sterling elementary school.

The high school math teacher found the closest route to Algonkian Elementary was 0.93 miles, beyond the 0.8 mile- limit the school board had set for elementary school walking zones.

So he appealed the decision. Two different officials from the school transportation came to his neighborhood to measure the distance and inspect the route. They agreed that his house was outside the boundary, but they still denied his appeal.

That means in September, Horkan’s daughter will be one of 4,000 additional students in Loudoun County who will need to walk or find another way to school as officials seek to focus more limited resources in the classroom. The shift increases the number of walkers in the county by a quarter, from about 12,000 to 16,000 students.

The school board decided to more uniformly enforce an existing policy that says transportation should be provided for elementary students who live at least .8 miles from school and for middle and high school students who live a mile or more from school.

About 250 of the students who are losing bus service, though, live outside of those walk zones, according to a May 29 letter to the school board from Kevin Lewis, assistant superintendent for support services.

The letter explained that these children fall just outside of the 0.8 or one mile walking zones, but “their proximity to residences or boundaries of the areas within the established distances indicate that reasonable judgment would include them within the walking group.”

In Horkan’s case, a transportation official told The Washington Post, because he lives on a cul-de-sac, it would be difficult for a bus to come onto that street, and so the nearest bus stop for his daughter would be within the walking zone.

Horkan believes that violates the school’s policy, and is appealing the decision again. So are some other parents who fall into this category. About 100 parents in all have filed appeals so far.

“The rules are the rules. It’s very straightforward,” Horkan said. “If we lived .7 miles away from the school, that’s what we would do [walk]. But they aren’t going by those rules.”

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in Northern Virginia.
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