The Crozet Community Advisory Council, charged with helping implement the Crozet Master Plan by communicating the will of the community to officials, again pressed school leaders at its meeting August 18 to allow Crozet students within walking distance of a school to actually walk to school.
The county accepted a $190,000 grant from VDOT’s Safe Routes to School program in May 2010 to build a sidewalk, plus a crosswalk and a crossing light, from Crozet Elementary north to Ballard Drive, the entrance to Laurel Hills subdivision. About 175 of the school’s 375 students live within two miles of the school, according to then-Crozet Principal Karen Marcus and the sidewalk is meant to encourage kids to walk to school. The project has not begun yet.
Meanwhile, a student at Henley Middle School was suspended for walking to school. [Retracted 9/7/11]
Given that the Master Plan emphasizes greenways, trails and convenient pedestrian connections, the CCAC wanted to know what the county schools’ real policy on walking is. It invited local school principals and interested parents to its May meeting to get the obstacles to walking to school laid out, but only parents showed.
The CCAC invited White Hall District School Board representative Barbara Massie Mouly to its June meeting, trying to get a grip on whether school board policy deals with the diverging views of area principals. She suggested that the CCAC try to arrange a meeting with local school principals. The CCAC felt it had already failed at that.
Subsequently, Mouly urged interim school chief operating officer Josh Davis to come to the CCAC’s August meeting.
Davis told the CCAC that five county schools—Woodbrook and Hollymead Elementaries, Sutherland Middle, and Albemarle and Monticello High Schools—all have walk zones established. Children living inside those zones are not offered bus service. Davis reported that Henley Middle School principal Patrick McLaughlin considered the trail behind the school that connects to the new WAHS cross country course in Old Trail, a 3.2 mile circuit, to be not in good enough condition for students to be safe walking on it. It has exposed roots and in some spots is steep.
CCAC member Jessica Mauzy, who also heads the Crozet Trails Crew, a group of volunteers who build and maintain local pathways, said, “We really want good safe routes to the schools and we want to partner with the schools. If parents or administrators are nervous about it, we want to hear about it and work on it to get to where everybody is happy about the trails.”
Once a child is on a school bus, the school is responsible for his or her safety, Davis explained. Otherwise, the safety of a child is the responsibility of the parents until the child arrives at school.
Davis suggested that adult escorts be arranged for students who walk.
Jim Duncan, who had tried to promote walking to Crozet Elementary, where his daughter goes, said, “I met with significant resistance and I was told that I would be liable and that it would need legal review. I’d like to see some consistency.”
CCAC member John Savage observed that Old Trail developer Gaylon Beights had been told by county officials that he was expected to build trails that would connect to the nearby schools.
CCAC chair Meg Holden, whose home adjoins Brownsville Elementary, said she was told by Brownsville leaders that her daughter is not allowed to walk to school, even though she can do it quickly and easily without coming near a road. “If my child walked to school, would she be suspended?” she asked.
“I’m not aware of that discipline issue,” Davis replied. He said he would raise the matter with the school attorney.
“How can a school principal say that a child who walks to school property cannot come on it to go to school?” asked CCAC member Bill Schrader.
“The public is surprised by the resistance to this from school officials,” White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek noted to Davis.
Duncan said he had posted photographs of the trail in question on his blog, realcrozetva.com, and the public could judge for itself if the trail was in good enough condition for kids to use. Part of the path under discussion is on school property.
CCAC member Kelly Strickland suggested that all of Old Trail be made a school walking zone.
In a subsequent communication to the CCAC, Davis said he had walked the trail behind Henley himself and found it possibly hazardous and requiring considerable improvement before it could be a safe route. He said he would work to create a partnership between the schools and the Crozet community to allow walking to school to happen. He said any attempt to improve the trail must be approved by school officials or the School Board and he asked that the wishes of school principals “not be defied.”
In other business, the CCAC also passed a resolution, aimed at VDOT, that supports residents of Old Trail upset by the detention pond built at the intersection of Old Trail Drive and Jarmans Gap Road as part of the road’s improvement. Residents asked for it to be fenced and a biofilter concept—plantings—to be incorporated, rather than simply leaving a muddy hole. A biofilter would need to be only one-third the size of the pond that’s been dug, residents said after consulting a civil engineer themselves. They argued that VDOT’s plans for the pond did not acknowledge that the area already has a storm water management system in place that can handle heavy downpours of rain. The detention pond is meant to be permanent. A biofilter plan would raise its cost.
The CCAC learned of the resignation of member Charles Mitchell and a replacement for him is being sought. Please let Ann Mallek know if you are interested in serving.