Question: Should middle-schoolers be forced to walk up to 1.5 miles to school?

Question: Should middle-schoolers be forced to walk up to 1.5 miles to school? (ABC7)

A group of passionate parents is attempting to poke holes in a Montgomery County Public Schools policy, which denies bus service to certain students.

The policy states that elementary students living less than one mile from school grounds will not get bussed to-or-from class. The distance threshold is set at one-and-a-half miles for middle schoolers, and two miles for high schoolers.

Madiaw Diop and his wife have three children in the MCPS system. They live in a basic apartment complex along Glenville Road, approximately one mile from Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring.

The walk to EMS, which includes crossing busy University Boulevard East, takes roughly 20 minutes door-to-door. In addition to time, Diop says frigid temperatures, oppressive heat, rain and unshoveled sidewalks make the daily trek dangerous.

“We’re a low-income community, and these kids deserve the transportation to get to school warm and energized, that’s all we ask for,” Diop remarked.

Due to financial constraints, many parents work more than one job, leaving their home at early morning hours. Some families don’t even own a car. Diop has taken it upon himself to shuttle many of the neighborhood’s approximately 25 middle schoolers to class in his white Ford Explorer. The SUV seats seven.

"Most of the parents here, they work in construction, they need to leave this neighborhood at 5 a.m. They want to come here and pay a higher rent than in Prince George’s County. Why? Because they know their kids are going to have an outstanding education, but walking to school in some of these conditions, the kids are out of sync, they are not able to compete,” Diop added.

In June, a car hit Diop’s son, Souleymann, as he traveled home from class. The 14-year-old was walking in his neighborhood, which does not have sidewalks, when the vehicle struck him from behind. Souleymann was forced to the pavement, but remarkably did not sustain serious injuries. The driver fled and was never caught by police.

"I was thinking, did that really just happen? I couldn’t believe it,” said Souleymann, who is about to start his freshman year at Montgomery Blair High School. “I just want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Following his son’s frightening experience, Diop complained to MCPS about its bus policy. The Senegal-native asked that an exception be made, citing student safety and economic constraints. In a July 15, email obtained by ABC7, MCPS Transportation Director Todd Watkins replied to Diop, saying:

"Good afternoon.
We had a chance to investigate your request. MCPS policy on non-transported areas was designed to save precious education resources by having students who live close to their school walk, with safety as a top priority. Designated walk areas are reviewed periodically and updated if and when changes in safety conditions warrant. As long as there is an age-appropriate walking route, middle school students who live within 1.5 miles of their middle school are not eligible for transportation. More information can be found in Policy EEA and Regulation EEA-RA, easily searchable on the MCPS website.
The Glenville community lies within the non-transported area for students attending Eastern Middle School. The walk along the west side of University Boulevard to Franklin Avenue has been reviewed and continues to be deemed age appropriate for middle school students. Crossing guards are stationed at the intersection of University Boulevard and Franklin Avenue to assist students with the crossing of University Boulevard to access the school.
We regret that we are unable to grant your request for school bus service to Eastern Middle School. We do thank you for your inquiry regarding this important safety issue. We wish you and your children a safe and successful school year.
Todd Watkins"

Diop has since appealed Watkins’ denial. An MCPS spokeswoman says administrators are reviewing the matter. A final decision has not been made. MCPS classes resume on Monday, August 29.

ABC7 posted a Twitter poll asking whether-or-not MCPS’ bus policy is fair or unfair. As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, 115 people had voted – 63 percent called the policy unfair, while 37 percent said it was fair.

Cast your vote here:

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