Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fairfax Co School Board modifies bike to school policy

On Thursday the Fairfax County School Board modified the policy on biking and walking to school. The new policy clarifies that parents make the final decision as to whether their children bike to school. It also added language that encourages kids to walk and bike to school

Prior to their action, the school system did not have a clear policy regarding whether kids were allowed to bike to school. At some schools students were banned from biking:
Recognizing the health benefits, FCPS encourages parents to consider having their children walk and/or ride a bicycle to and from school using existing infrastructure. This parental decision is not subject to review by the principal. Ultimately, parents have the responsibility for selecting their children’s routes to and from bus stops, schools, and home. Parents are also responsible for providing supervision that is appropriate for the student's age, maturity and conditions of the chosen route. The unique procedures for kindergarten students are addressed in the current version of Regulation 8617.
The second part of the change relates to retaining bike and ped safety education, which is part of the Grade 1, 5, and 7 curriculum. Until a few years ago School Education Officers rotated through the elementary schools and taught bike safety classes. The classes were dropped when the program was cut.

It's critical that kids are taught how to safely walk and bike along our streets. We can't advocate in good faith to get more kids on bikes unless we ensure they receive safety education. We also think they will be better teen drivers if they learn the rules of the road at an early age.

The old policy was outdated and needed to be replaced. It didn't include bike safety and it referenced the school education officers. Here's the new policy:
Safety Education: The school system will ensure that programs of walking, bicycling and bus safety education shall be established and maintained for students in the elementary schools. Such programs shall be conducted in accordance with Virginia Department of Education curriculums and guidelines. Staff members will provide general safety information to school communities and respond to requests for specific information and advice when practicable.

FABB has been advocating for these changes for the past two years. Thanks to Jeff Anderson, a member of FABB who leads Wolfie's bike train (see photo above), who lead this effort.

Thanks to the School Board and the Facilities and Transportation staff for their support for the Safe Routes to School Program and for encouraging more kids to walk and bike to school. Much more needs to be done but we're setting the foundation for the future.

The challenge now is how to find the resources to ensure that bike safety is taught in all 138 elementary schools. Safe Routes to School grants would help as would reinstatement of the School Education Officers, as was recommended by the School Health Advisory Committee last year.

Read more details about the policy changes. Now, about bikes being a prohibited student activity...

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