Mom takes on critics over who is responsible for kids after school
A lot of you had strong opinions about a letter that a mom in Montgomery County wrote to the transportation department of the school system about a bus policy that does not call for a bus driver to return a very young child back to school if an adult is not at the bus stop. Some of you thought they should. Others didn't.
I printed Melanie Klein's letter after a story about a 5-year-old, Gavin Salinas, was mistakenly put on a school bus in Alexandria by a teacher and then let off in a neighborhood he did not know. Since then, changes have been made to the bus system in Alexandria.
Here is her response to your comments:
By Melaine Klein
Children should learn to be self-reliant step-by-step, given their individual strengths and weaknesses, and their circumstances. Does the foster child who is in his ninth placement of the school year, and his ninth school, know his way “home”? How many “trusted neighbors” does he know? What about the child with special needs?
What if the child left at home alone sets the whole house on fire or cuts his finger off?
Just because we’ve always done something a certain way doesn’t make it right, or the best way.
Children who’ve been left unsupervised before they were ready have drowned, been run over, molested, and shot and killed themselves, siblings, and friends. These incidents may be relatively rare, but accidents are the leading cause of death in children, and most perpetrators of sexual abuse know their victims; they’re relatives, friends, or “trusted neighbors.”
Gavin Salinas was so traumatized he forgot his last name, his mother’s name, and his phone number. A child’s emotional state affects his ability to remember vital information even more than an apparently “rational” adult. Have none of you ever forgotten an important piece of information in the midst of a crisis?
Everyone does not have a panoply of trusted neighbors at their disposal. How long have your neighbors lived in your neighborhood? How well do you know them? How much do you trust them? What if you really can trust your neighbor, but he’s at the grocery store, or out-of-town on business?
How is the parent supposed to know the sitter didn’t show? Is a 5-year-old supposed to carry a cell phone? What if she forgets it at school? (In fact, there’s a “policy” against elementary school kids bringing cell phones to school.) What if the bus driver doesn’t have a cell phone, or doesn’t let your child use it (since it’s not “the policy”)?
Everyone’s situation is different, and the most well-thought-out plans fall through.
Sitters cancel, you can’t reach them, or they aren’t available at the last minute. Former stay-at-home parents now work. If they don’t live in the neighborhood, they’d have to come up with a booster seat for your child or a key to your house. It’s illegal for your child to ride in the car without one until he’s 8, 80 pounds, or 4’9”.
How many people should have your key? What if the parent has a stroke, no one knows, and she doesn’t meet the bus? Then would it be OK for the school system to at least consider discussing some alternatives to dumping her child by the side of the road?
Afterschool programs vary in quality, hours, and cost. They may not be right for every child. Are they available at every school? Gavin Salinas wasn’t even supposed to be on the bus in the first place, but in an afterschool program; schools make mistakes, too.
I agree that it would not be easy and perhaps would be costly to adopt and implement a different policy. But how much would it cost for a driver to carry a clipboard that says “this kid can be let out unattended. This kid is supposed to be met by a parent.” How much time would it take to check that clipboard?
Are we really saying that a 5-year-old child should know the way home, but an adult cannot be expected to ask the name of a child exiting his bus?
I would like to have seen Montgomery County Public Schools respond “we are reviewing our policies in response to your concern.”
Neither Shirley Brandman, the President of the School Board, or Jerry Weast, the Superintendent of Schools, both of whom I copied my letter to, bothered to respond. To implicitly (and explicitly, in the case of Todd Watkins, Director of Transportation for MCPS) stand by this policy without consideration of any alternatives is profoundly unsatisfying. I expected more from what is considered to be one of the finest public school systems in the country.
I note that the answer I received from Mr. Watkins stated, “if a bus operator recognizes that a student may be having some difficulty, they have the option of returning that child to the school.” I believe this should be the written policy, not an unwritten “option” which may or may not be exercised.
The “right” to ride the school bus is an MCPS policy: “Students attending their home school who reside beyond the distances defined below will receive transportation services.” This same policy states “while riding the bus, students are on school property.”
When is school “over?” MCPS’s Student Rights and Responsibilities states “Discipline may be imposed for offenses involving school activities outside of the regular school hours, including on a school bus or at a bus stop. If you do things outside of school that are related to school (for example, harassing a teacher or fighting with a student while walking home), school authorities may talk with your parents/guardians about it or take disciplinary action.”
So, the school can discipline your child if he misbehaves on her way home from the bus, but refuses any responsibility for his physical safety?
I think Melanie Klein makes an excellent argument that school systems should allow kids to be returned to school if they want to or the bus driver realizes a young child would be left alone. What's your take?
| October 29, 2009; 12:41 PM ET
Categories: Montgomery County Public Schools, Parents | Tags: bus policy
Save & Share: Previous: Alexandria Schools changes bus procedures after incidents with kindergarteners
Next: Should sick kids have to make up all missed school work?
Posted by: burntnorton | October 29, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: momof4md | October 29, 2009 8:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: RedBird27 | October 29, 2009 8:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: moolanie | October 30, 2009 5:50 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: burntnorton | October 30, 2009 6:17 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: opinionatedreader | November 4, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.