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A Longer Walk to School

Spiraling fuel costs have made running school buses a budget-busting proposition. So last night the Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) board voted to give Superintendent Jerry D. Weast leeway to increase the distances from school beyond which bus service is provided -- in effect, making more kids walk to school.

Right now, elementary-school kids living within a mile of school don't have bus service; for middle-schoolers, it's 1.5 miles, and high school students living 2 miles from school or closer have to get there on their own. There's no telling yet how those guidelines might change, if at all; in any case, no changes are planned for the coming school year.

Should kids living farther from school be asked to walk, some parents are sure to squawk. And with good reason, in many cases: as acting MCPS public information officer Chris Cram explains, a lot of safety issues, from sidewalk maintenance to lighting, need to be addressed. He says parents would be involved every step of the way.

On the other hand, there's a move afoot to get more kids walking (and biking) to school to improve fitness and give them a healthy start to the school day. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) sponsors a program designed to help communities organize to make walking to school more feasible. According to the program's Web site, only 16 percent of kids walked to school in 2001; that number's down from 42 percent in 1969. The site addresses the major barriers -- distance to school, traffic dangers, adverse weather, fear of crimes against children and crime in the neighborhood -- that make parents balk at having their kids get themselves to school. And it offers community-based suggestions for remedying those problems.

I remember trudging to the now-defunct Robert E. Peary High School on some mighty cold and dark mornings; it wasn't quite fun, but I think it built character. On the other hand, I loved walking around the corner from my house to Rock Creek Valley Elementary School, and, by the time I was in junior high, I liked the challenge posed by the couple of big hills on my route to school. And today I still love to walk, though my companions often accuse me of going too fast.

I wonder, though, what the response might be today if more kids were asked to walk. I have a hunch that whatever fuel savings the county might realize would be offset by an increased number of parents driving their kids to school.

I now happen to live on a rural highway, with no sidewalks, so there's no walking to school for my kids. How about you? Do your kids walk to school? Do you feel safe letting them do so? Do you think they're fitter for it? Or do you feel better giving them a lift?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 24, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health  
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I always lived in rural areas that required a bus ride but my daughters do NOT walk (they are 11 and 9) even though it is possible.

NO, I do NOT feel safe having them walk with the high amount of traffic both on Church Road and Sterling BLVD. I am also worried about child predators as the crossing guards are about the only thing to police presence but they do not walk them or observe them in between crossings.

I also did a search of sex offenders in my area and was quite amazed at the amount of them within miles of my home. I could say "in my day" I did such and such but I think things have changed dramatically in my 38 years.

Posted by: Sterling Park | June 24, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I loved being in charge of my commute to and from school. I only had the opportunity for two years because of renovations, but it was great. I wish I had lived closer to all the schools in my area.

Now, my neighborhood's plan only mandates that kids bus to the high school. The elementary school is at the beginning of my street and the middle school is about a mile away. I suspect the high school is just beyond the limit, since it's an easy bike ride for me to the neighboring library.

Posted by: kate | June 24, 2008 10:54 AM | Report abuse

If only more roads in the US had sidewalks and pedestrian crossings people would be walking a lot more. As of now most US roads are not pedestrian-friendly even in suburbs and kids should not be asked to walk where it is not safe to do so.

Posted by: Elle | June 25, 2008 9:12 AM | Report abuse

I have several issues about this. Safety is my first. I worry about child predators. I also worry about winter months. I think if this happens children should have the advantage of daylight hours. They now should have school between March through October. Have the worst of the winter for their break. Crossing busy highways while people are in a hurry to get to work is another issue. Sidewalks need to be safe. Bullys waiting to jump on other children after school. At least on a bus parents know that there is an adult there for supervision.

Posted by: Diana | June 25, 2008 9:43 AM | Report abuse

In the '60's I walked to my grade school/jr. high, 2/3 mile each way along US 1, a four lane road with sidewalks and one crossing guard at a major intersection. And I did this 4 times a day as I walked home for lunch for the first 8 years. Early '70s HS transport was a public bus on a major metro system. Never once can I remember an issue with this.

Are we being overly protective now? I wonder (although I am guilty as charged with my own kids).

Posted by: Bill | June 26, 2008 1:36 PM | Report abuse

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