November 14, 2017; Woodside Gardens Community Center. A group of concerned students, parents, grandparents, and other community stakeholders met with Sheila Finlayson, Ward 4 alderperson, Alex Szachnowicz (Chief Operational Officer for Anne Arundel County Public Schools), Les Douglas (Supervisor of Transportation for AACPS) and Jolene Davis (Assistant Superintendent AACPS) and Sergeant Tucker of the Annapolis Police Department to discuss the sudden discontinuation of school bus service to the Newtowne drive corridor, Annapolis Walk and Green Briar.
The community was first alerted about the removal of the school bus service, without any prior notice on October 17, 2017. When parents initially found out about the discontinuation, an immediate public outcry commenced with several public officials including County Councilman Chris Trumbauer and former Annapolis Mayor Mike Pantelides expressing disappointment with the decision by the department of Anne Arundel County Public Schools Central Office/Superintendent staff.
The discontinuation was delayed until Nov 27, the day after Thanksgiving, but the parents are still not in agreement with the decision to take away school buses from Newtowne, Annapolis Walk, and Green Briar students. They have questions and concerns that have not been addressed. AACPS’s new computer satellite system, which cost the County $783,000, determines which students will be bused and which will have to walk. The satellite does this by the home’s distance from Annapolis Middle School. This satellite system does not take into account other factors such as the conditions these children will have to walk in on any given day.
The meeting last night was set up as a presentation of the AACPS policy and question and answer. Representatives from the transportation department informed the crowd that school buses were discontinued to Newtowne, Annapolis Walk, and Green Briar residents, because of the newly created sidewalks on forest drive.
Apparently, these students did not qualify for busing but were previously given buses because of a lack of sidewalks on forest drive. And now that there were sidewalks they no longer are eligible for bus service. Although Alan Schawarski admitted a public works survey was conducted, he made no mention of a public safety assessment for the new sidewalks.
Concerned citizens bombarded officials with a barrage of questions about, traffic, blind spots, heavily wooded areas, a lack of police or crossing guards, several commercial properties along Forest Drive, child sex offenders, truancy, and other concerns. At one point, Alex Szachnowicz said; “It’s your choice if you want to send your child to school.” Although he heard all the concerns, and even after residents pleaded with him to change his decision, it was apparent, he did not have the power to delay the implementation of this. Szachnowicz said that the residents would have to file an appeal with the Superintendent.
The lack of a public forum to discuss concerns about the discontinuation has created even more, distrust between residents and the County school system, which some said has historically marginalized low-income communities. At one point officials were asked if they knew about a bike rider who was hit by a car on forest drive, Alderperson Finlayson was taken aback by the revelation but had no knowledge of the accident or outcome.
One of the AACPS representatives was aware of the accident but chose not to speak about it. Residents were offered a couple of alternatives to appeal the decision, but we’re not given any concrete information about the actual appeal process and if the decision would be delayed during the appeal or how long it would take. The residents have decided to attend today’s (November 15, 2017) Board of Education meeting at 7 p.m. to start the appeal process. Residents who would like to speak need to be there at 6 p.m.
Toni Strong-Pratt, a local community advocate, said, “The community came together in solidarity to protect our children, Safety trumps budgets!”
Richard W. Right is a concerned Annapolitan, a writer and independent content creator.
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