- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Prince George’s County schools officials yesterday said it would be impractical to change busing rules so that elementary school children don’t have to walk through high-crime neighborhoods.

“What we’ve attempted to do is treat every community the same, and every community has its concerns,” said John White, a Prince George’s County schools spokesman.

His comments came in response to complaints from parents who are frustrated that several new schools in the county are situated in crime-plagued neighborhoods — neighborhoods that some of the students have to navigate on foot.

According to county rules, children who live within 1.5 miles of a campus are not entitled to bus service.

Mr. White said about 97,000 of the school district’s 139,000 children are bused each day. The system costs the county about $80 million a year. Changing the countywide busing rules would likely double costs, which the county may not be able to afford, said Kelly Alexander, a county schools spokeswoman.

“What happens when the bus drops them off and they have to walk home? Anything is possible at a cost, but you just have to evaluate what is the most equitable and fair thing to do across the county,” he said.

One grandparent said she would rather transfer her granddaughter from a brand-new building than have her walk to school.

“This neighborhood has such a stigma for crime and drugs, we all fear for Tiffany,” said Yasman Gray, 55, who drove her 7-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany, to Suitland Elementary School Monday rather than have her walk a mile.

Suitland Elementary was one of three new elementary schools that opened Monday. William W. Hall Elementary School opened in Capitol Heights, and Whitehall Elementary School in Bowie also opened to students with the start of the county’s new school year.

Over the last 90 days, Prince George’s County police say there have been three homicides and five sexual assaults in the neighborhoods around Hall Elementary and one homicide and four sexual assaults in the neighborhood around Suitland Elementary.

Both are new schools, drawing students from overcrowded campuses nearby and, in some cases, new residential communities.

Mrs. Gray and Tiffany’s mother, Lialta Bizzell, 35, said they plan to drive Tiffany to school each day or get her transferred to a different school in the area.

“This is really going to be a decision-making time for us,” Mrs. Gray said. “We aren’t going to let her walk. She’s 7. It’s too dangerous.”

Bruce Sellers Jr., who works for United Parcel Service, walked his three children, ages 10, 7 and 4, to Suitland Elementary because he thought the area was too dangerous for his wife to accompany them.

“I wouldn’t even want her to walk from here to there,” he said. “It’s drug infested all day long.”

Miss Alexander said that population growth dictates where schools are placed but that decisions on specific locations are often driven by the availability of land and appropriate zoning laws.

“If you look at where you live and what goes on in the county, what can you do?” she said. “Can you find a place to put a school where there’s no crime? Its not just Prince George’s County but across the nation. Where in Prince George’s would you put a school where there is no crime?”

Gary Emerling contributed to this report.

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