After decades of advocacy, Fairfax Co. community gets school bus service

For decades, students who lived in the Mount Vernon Square community have had to cross busy residential streets and walk along an unpaved and unmaintained path to get to the nearby Hollin Meadows Elementary School.

Some of the trek for the Fairfax County, Virginia, students included a wooded area that some parents have described as unsafe. They say there are several streets that students have to cross before getting to school, but not all of them have crossing guards.

Donya Wright first encountered those challenges with her son. She started asking why bus service isn’t available for the complex where 350 kids, over half the school’s population, live.

She heard many of the answers that had been offered before: The community is too close to the school, so bus service isn’t offered. A bus driver shortage adds another dynamic.

After parents and school leaders made the matter urgent, the state’s largest school district recently reviewed the walking path between the neighborhood and the school. And after the review, the division decided to start offering bus service for the students who live there.

Four buses started operating on May 28, Superintendent Michelle Reid said in a weekly memo to families, and the bus service is expected to continue next year.

“Being a PTA leader, a parent and a staff member, there’s no way we could just sit back and not push for something,” Wright said. “That’s a start, buses. We’ve got the sky to get to the limit.”

Calls for school buses in the neighborhood date back to now-Supervisor Dan Storck’s time on the school board. Most of the Mount Vernon Square complex is within a mile of the school, and the district didn’t provide buses for schools within that limit, he said.

Buses are expensive, too, and Storck said at the time, the division didn’t have complex mapping software to work through the logistics. County leaders also acknowledged the benefits of students walking to school every day.

Still, he recognized the circumstances. Students had to walk through a path that “was not a typical path in a way that a student might walk to school,” Storck said.

Wright added that it’s not a “defined path” for students to use to get to school.

It started as a worn path from foot traffic, but Erin Anderson, a parent with the Hollin Meadows PTA, said it ultimately became a graveled path.

“There’s mothers pushing strollers,” Anderson said. “And there’s a lot of young kids who would be walking by themselves. So having to go through a path like that and not being in a neighborhood on sidewalks, it’s not the safest route for elementary school children.”

Anderson said advocacy for buses for the community started again right before the pandemic, “because the students were walking to the school through a cut-through in a wooded area that connected their apartment complex to one of the communities by the school. And it wasn’t the safest route.”

The infrastructure wasn’t the only challenge, though. The area has seen an uptick in violent crime, Anderson said, between murders, and gun and knife violence.

“Whether (or not) that is directly related to a family at our school, it’s in their community and the kids are aware of it,” Anderson said.

Now that school buses are picking kids up, Wright, the incoming PTA president, is expecting absenteeism to go down. Even if there’s inclement weather, or a parent has to leave for work, “Nope, got a bus now. It’s no excuse,” she said.

In the short time the buses were operating at the end of the school year, the school’s Kiss and Ride line became shorter, Anderson said. Previously, at the end of the school day, the streets were filled with so many students walking home that neighborhood cars couldn’t get through.

Storck, the current Mount Vernon District supervisor, said the consistent pleas for buses made clear “this wasn’t just a nice to-do, it was a critical safety issue to-do.”

In a statement, School Board Member Mateo Dunne said he’s grateful the district is launching the bus service during a bus driver shortage.

“I commend the Hollin Meadows ES PTA and the Mount Vernon Square community for their tireless advocacy to ensure every child has equitable access to a world-class education,” Dunne said.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2024 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up