All middle school students who reside in Stone Barn Village are now eligible for bus transportation for the remainder of this academic year, thanks to an appeal filed by Beth McKay, community involvement, and a Nov. 13 decision by the Frederick County Public Schools Board of Education. This decision will be reviewed annually, according to the Board. The Board’s decision remanded the matter to the superintendent, who will organize resumption of transportation as soon as possible. At print deadline on Nov. 25, bus transportation had not yet resumed.
In early May, a handful of families in Stone Barn Village received a letter stating their students would no longer qualify for bus transportation to Urbana Middle and Urbana High for the 2019-2020 academic year. Their homes are located near the 1.75-mile FCPS bus transportation limit, and per FCPS policy, the superintendent may extend this non-transport area by a tenth of a mile.
Since then parents and students have advocated for resumption of bus transportation, and Beth McKay, who is the mother to two seventh graders and commutes to Montgomery County for work each day, filed her first appeal in early June.
The Stone Barn community came out in force on Oct. 30 to address the Board of Education during public comments prior to its Nov. 8 consideration of McKay’s appeal.
McKay, who was instructed during the comments period that she could not argue verbally any of the points included in her submitted appeal, spoke broadly. “I hope that when you render your decision that you will remember that the ones being affected by the unreasonable and arbitrary decision to eliminate one bus stop are children. No policy should ever take precedence over the safety of children.
“We believe it to be unsafe and unreasonable to ask children to walk 45 minutes to school. There are already 300-plus cars daily that use the car rider line at Urbana Middle School. They have five employees that spend 30 minutes morning and afternoon directing traffic only,” she added.
The U18 bus that last year transported Stone Barn middle school students continues to stop near the community on Urbana Pike and is under capacity, she said, so the cost of reinstating bus transportation would be zero.
Other parents echoed McKay’s safety concerns, including students crossing at busy intersections, walking in the dark and inclement weather. Some also mentioned the high impact fees that Villages of Urbana homeowners pay. Stone Barn resident Karen Knapp said, “Impact fees are upwards of $19,000. There is a separate part specifically for bus that was added on to all our homes, and I think that really needs to be taken into consideration … when we bought our homes, we were told there is a bus.”
Students expressed their concern over speeding cars and distracted drivers, especially during dark winter mornings, and the difficulty of walking 45 minutes with backpack, Chromebook, lunch and sometimes instrument.
Freshman Myris Rochez said that she is one of only three who walk 35 minutes each morning to Urbana High School. When she leaves before 7 a.m., “it has been really dark and scary walking.” In addition to traffic, she also worries about encountering strangers on quiet streets.
The Board’s Nov. 13 decision concluded, “The current condition creates a safety concern for students walking between the Stone Barn Village section and Urbana Middle School, although that situation may be resolved in the future as development and construction continues in that area.”
President Brad Young addressed why the reviewing Board members’ guidance did not include Stone Barn Village high school-age students: “… focus was on the middle school students because that’s where the most safety concerns were involved. Therefore, their decision was only about the middle school students.”