Rockville 10-year-old’s Ride On route to school raises questions -- Gazette.Net


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This story was clarified on Nov. 26, 2012. An explanation follows.

Anna Engelsone of Rockville said she didn’t think twice about starting to send her 10-year-old daughter, Liz, to school on a Ride On bus this school year.

When her daughter’s principal told her Montgomery County Public Schools was contacting Child Protective Services, she was shocked.

“As a parent, when someone says they are even considering that, it makes you feel threatened and defensive,” Engelsone said.

But the school never followed up with Engelsone, and now she wants other parents to know her story.

She posted it on Free-Range Kids, a blog that advocates for parents to let children to be trusted to have personal responsibilities. Greater Greater Washington, a local blog, picked the story up.

Not every 10-year-old is fit to ride a public bus alone, Engelsone said in an interview, but that is up to the child’s parents to decide. Liz, a fifth-grade student at Garrett Park Elementary School, is mature enough to handle it, she said, and she is doing fine.

In her posting, Engelsone includes emails she claims came from Garrett Park principal Elaine Chang-Baxter that detail how the school system wanted CPS to investigate, not to determine neglect, but to confirm the appropriateness of Engelsone’s decision.

“I didn’t need CPS to tell me what was safe and what wasn’t,” Engelsone said in the interview. “I imagine they have much better things to do with their time than advising parents with mundane decisions.”

Engelsone said her family moved from inside the Garrett Park service area to just outside this summer. She continued to send Liz to the school, which is now about 3 miles from where she lives, because she likes the school, she said.

Once her transfer application went through, she received a call from Chang-Baxter saying MCPS wanted the principal to call CPS, Engelsone said.

School staff will always follow up on concerns that are raised to ensure that students are safe, and that may include a conversation with an agency such as CPS, said Dana Tofig, school system spokesman.

Tofig said he could not comment on the specific situation and confirm the school involved, but he said a principal looked into the matter after a community member reported it.

The school system does not have a policy regarding the use of public transportation, and some students do take public transportation to school, Tofig said.

Chang-Baxter referred calls to Tofig.

Engelsone decided to send Liz to school on a bus not because she can’t drive her to school, but because she thought it would be a good time for her to learn about public transportation, she said.

She practiced with Liz this summer, showing her the route and emergency back-up plans. She gave her a cell phone and told her to call when she was getting on the bus. She made sure Liz was comfortable with the situation, she said.

The trip includes 10 minutes on a county Ride On bus, Engelsone said.

In just weeks, Liz had made what she called “people friends,” on the bus, Engelsone said.

“In a few short weeks, my daughter had surrounded herself with a community of people who recognized her, who were happy to see her, and who surely would step in if someone tried to hurt her,” Engelsone wrote in her letter to Free Range Kids.

Lenore Skenazy, who is based in New York City and edits the blog Free-Range Kids, said the issue highlights what her website and book of the same title are all about.

“It is about trusting our kids and our community and our own parenting,” she said.

With bad news about children reported in the media at all times, Skenazy said parents always think of the worst case scenario.

“Once in a while someone can do something and not get murdered,” she said. “... To see that we have been overtaken by a pessimistic view of the world is depressing to me.”

No law prohibits children from taking the county bus, county spokeswoman Esther Bowring said.

She said she could not comment on the specific case mentioned in the blog. She said if CPS is notified that a child is at harm, the agency would check to see if laws were being broken, see if the child involved has special needs, and assess the child to see if he or she is frightened or being sufficiently supervised.

“If there is an allegation of wrongdoing, they are going to investigate to see what the situation is,” Bowring said.

Engelsone said Liz will continue to take the bus for the rest of the year — Liz likes it.

“If you give a child a chance to show how mature they can be, it will surprise you,” she said.

jbondeson@gazette.net

Editor’s note: After publication, Engelsone provided new details on the distance from her home and the school and the time it takes her daughter to ride the bus. Also, the story adds details on the telephone conversation between Chang-Baxter and Engelsone.