I'm writing in response to the article ("Cyclists protest roadside attacks," May 23). I live in western Howard County, and I'd like to ask the cyclists who train on the roads there to drive a mile in my shoes. Like competitive cyclist Robb Preiss, who is quoted in the article, I am also sick of what's going on.
Cyclists don't like motorists following behind them and are equally upset when a car passes too closely. I'd like to know if these cyclists have driven in a car on the roads on which they train. The roads have a small shoulder or none at all, and they are hilly and curvy. When the bikers are out in full force, as they are every weekend in nice weather, it is difficult for me to drive anywhere.
I hold my breath when I have to pass cyclists, especially when they ride two or three across. Of course motorists are close to them when passing. Of course cars have to follow cyclists until it's safe to pass. Many times I've thought it's the motorists who are in the most danger.
I wonder why the cyclists don't stop at red lights and, especially, stop signs. Slowing down just isn't safe. Don't cyclists have to follow the same laws as motorists?
Finally, I understand that Mr. Preiss has little choice but to train on the roads, but I think that he should train on the roads in his Ellicott City neighborhood, not on the roads in my neighborhood.
School bus pickups now as early as 6:20 a.m.
I really had to laugh when I read your report on next year's school opening times ("For some, school day to start five minutes later," May 23). "That means that some high schoolers could be waiting at bus stops as early as 7 a.m.," the story said.
It has been a longstanding situation in our part of the county for bus pickup times to be 6:20-6:40 a.m. for middle schoolers.
Sometimes the middle school buses pick up before the high school buses, but even most of the high school pickups are well before 7 a.m.
Distance to the school is not always the issue. I live five minutes from Glenwood Middle School, and my son's pickup time was around 6:30 a.m. That meant, to be safe, he had to be at the bus stop at 6:20 a.m. His school start time was 7:45 a.m.
Needless to say, I drove him to school. It's dark that early in the winter, and I don't want my child riding a bus for more than an hour each way.
I called and complained. The transportation office's reply was that the route is that way so bus drivers do not have to make a left-hand turn. I'm not kidding.
However, I do agree with Wilde Lake High School senior Dan Furman's discussion of studies on student performance in relation to a later start. After my son experienced chronic sinus infections, our pediatrician told us that teen-agers should be sleeping until at least 8 a.m. I laughed at that, too, and told him to talk to the school board.
Early school bus pickups unhealthy for teen-agers
I am an eighth-grader who will be attending Glenelg High School next year. Your article ("For some, school day to start five minutes later," May 23) interested me because if school is going to start later, it needs to be much later.
I'm tired of waking up before sunrise to get ready for school and wait for the bus at 7 a.m. Other middle school students I know board the bus even earlier than I do.
When my older brother attended River Hill High School he was at the bus stop at 6:30. At that time I have barely enough energy to get out of bed. Sometimes I'm so tired I nearly fall asleep during class.
I envy the teen-agers in Prince George's County. Their school starting time of 9:15 is much more reasonable.
I think that elementary schools should switch times with middle and high schools. It wouldn't hurt the elementary school students to start earlier because younger kids have a lot more energy and wake up earlier anyway.
I wouldn't mind getting home an hour or two later if it meant getting more sleep at night. Never mind that getting home so late would interrupt after-school activities; kids are doing too much anyway.
Having less time in the afternoons might force families to re-evaluate what's really important and encourage them to spend more time together. If teen-agers get the nine hours of sleep they need each night, then they can concentrate better and be more alert during morning classes. Middle and high schools simply need to start later.
Arsenic levels in school soil exceed safe standards
Contrary to Ms. Albrecht's letter (May 30), Parents for Safe Schools, of which I am a member, has never set out to prove contamination at Worthington Elementary School. Rather, the mission was to seek more information about the school's property to fully understand the impact on the children's health of being next to a landfill. The means to accomplish this mission involved hiring an independent expert to review county data.
The results of this effort were further environmental tests on the school property. With that being said, all three rounds of testing resulted in levels of contaminants that exceed the cleanup standards. This is not disputed by either the county or our group; these results speak for themselves.
The county then stated that the cleanup standards (which, prior to testing, were the agreed-upon benchmark by both groups) were too stringent and not relevant _ and instead offered a site-specific risk assessment that concluded "no risk of concern."
In a recent report released by the National Park Service, it is stated that there will be remediation of the soil at the Washington Monument for levels of arsenic that are lower than that at Worthington. We wonder why the difference and simply bring our continued concerns to the table.
We are not a group of renegades looking for trouble. We are simply parents trying to protect the children from potential harm at Worthington Elementary.
member, Parents For Safe Schools Ellicott City
Parents for Safe Schools wants all facts known
In response to J. Albrecht's letter (May 30), Parents For Safe Schools was established to accomplish two goals: to determine whether it was safe for the proposed Northeast Elementary School to be built alongside the unsealed, unlined New Cut Landfill and whether there were any safety concerns for children attending Worthington Elementary School due to its location next to the landfill.
Our goal was not to "prove" contamination at either site, but to ensure that the environment in which our children study and play is safe.
Questions raised by PFSS were not only critical in preventing Northeast Elementary from being built adjacent to the New Cut Landfill, but also played a role in preventing the 12th high school from being built adjacent to Alpha Ridge Landfill.
PFSS has worked with the county for more than 20 months, initially lobbying for soil and water testing and, once that goal was achieved, working with the county to develop the testing protocols and monitor the tests.
What are the facts about the soil tests at Worthington? In each round of tests, levels of heavy metals in the soil _ including arsenic and mercury _ were found to exceed the risk-based, residential standards set by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). The list of heavy metals exceeding the MDE's standards includes aluminum, arsenic, iron, manganese, mercury and vanadium.
The facts are not in dispute. The conclusions drawn from those facts _ and the necessary next steps _ are, however, contested. Parents For Safe Schools is asking the county government to take the necessary steps to ensure that Worthington Elementary School is a safe place for our children to learn, play and grow.
We are grateful to live in a country that embraces the freedom to seek information and does not repress citizens' rights to know more or to question their government. We believe it makes for a stronger society, and in this case, further protects our most precious asset, our children.
We are equally grateful to the Department of Public Works (John O'Hara and Evelyn Tomlin), the Department of Education (Sydney Cousin and Bruce Venter) and Councilman Chris Merdon for their utmost professionalism and assistance during this 20-month process. These individuals have demonstrated the highest levels of cooperation and respect toward our group throughout this process _ and it is mutual.
Carol McKissick, president
Diane Goodridge, secretary
Tammy Coburn, treasurer
Parents For Safe Schools Ellicott City
Weighted grades should be used in graduate rankingsp>This past week was high school graduation week in Howard County, a joyful time filled with many proud moments. One tradition of the graduations is that special recognition is given to the "best and the brightest" members of the class. Only in Howard County, this doesn't always happen.
We learned this the hard way, when my daughter was stunned to find out that even though her "weighted" grade-point average put her in the top 5 percent of her class, her "unweighted" grade-point average did not even rank in the top 10 percent.
Weighted grades, for the uninitiated, were developed to give appropriate credit to students who undertake the most difficult course loads. The result is that students who achieve high grades in the most difficult courses have higher weighted GPAs than do students who receive high grades in less difficult courses.
The weighting of grades assists college admissions officers who long ago realized that an "A" in entry-level geometry, however admirable, is not equivalent to an "A" in calculus III. Unfortunately, the weighted rankings receive no consideration at graduation.
So students (and parents) be forewarned, your diligence may not be recognized at your graduation ceremonies. The good news is that your diligence will be rewarded in the form of acceptances by selective colleges and universities.
Meanwhile, the current practice of recognizing the "top" 5 percent and 10 percent of the graduates must be overhauled so that it incorporates weighted rankings, which more accurately reflect student accomplishment.
Studies bear out concern over Worthington's soil
In response to the letter (May 30) concerning heavy-metal contamination at Worthington Elementary School, I would like to draw your attention to the following.
The Center for Health, Environment and Justice has launched a nationwide campaign to eliminate practices that place children at risk from exposure to toxic substances in their environment _ particularly in schools, parks and playgrounds.
While laws compel children to attend school, there are _ astoundingly _ no guidelines or laws in place that compel school districts to locate school buildings on property that will protect the school population from environmental health and safety risks. The goal of this effort is to assist citizens' groups concerned about children's environmental exposure to toxic substances and to help these groups achieve a safe and healthy environment for their children.
Unfortunately, around the country there are many sites where public schools were built on or near contaminated land and on or near toxic and hazardous waste sites.
There is a growing body of research that documents diminished health and intellect in children exposed to toxic substances. Young children are especially vulnerable to exposure to toxic chemicals, including heavy metals.
During a critical period of their growth and development, they spend a large part of their day at school. To needlessly place them in settings that heighten their risk of disease, hyperactivity or lower IQ is irresponsible, especially in light of recent health statistics that document increased incidence of childhood cancer and disease.
In situations of uncertainty such as exists at the Worthington School site _ where some experts consider the levels of toxic chemicals found in the soil to constitute a risk to the children, while others consider that risk to be "acceptable" _ we take our stand on the precautionary principle: that action should be taken to avert the possibility of harm.
We feel that the best course of action is to avoid exposing the children to toxic chemicals while experts debate how much exposure is acceptable. No one questions that the children will be exposed to chemicals in the soil and leaking from the landfill. The debate is over what the numbers mean.
Our center commends the Parents for Safe Schools group for its efforts to safeguard the health and safety of children at Worthington Elementary School.
Stephen U. Lester
science director,Center for Health, Environment and Justice,Falls Church, Va.
In school graduation flap, few are affecting the many
I'm glad to see that my letter (May 9) on graduation prompted someone to respond, and I hope that healthy and intelligent discussion can prevail.
Your opinion on the schools' decision is well noted and has merit, but have you thought about all other religions in this area that are not given the same respect?
The Jewish and Adventist religions are not the only religions that have "missed out" on other activities, so where's your argument?
It would be different if there were no other instances of those religions not being "fairly" represented in the school year, but two of the major Jewish holidays are celebrated in the county and on the school calendar. No other religion has "religious" holidays on the calendar. There is a two-week "winter break" and a one-week "spring break" _ to maintain the separation of church and state.
I, too, would commend the students on, first, their graduation and, secondly, for standing up for their rights. But you don't see colleges rescheduling for "religious observances."
This is still a blatant example that the few can affect the many in a democratic society. No one bothered to ask the other students if it was OK with them _ or didn't they work hard and deserve the right for graduating as well? That would be a different story.
Kevin J. Taylor
Emergency workers were superb professionals
On May 7, my wife and I were involved in an accident on Frederick Road in Ellicott City at the telephone pole under the railroad trestle. We would like to thank all the ambulance personnel and the emergency folks involved _ especially those involved in the treatment of my wife.
The only name I can remember is Kevin (who was excellent and who rode with us inside the ambulance to St. Agnes Hospital). The only face my wife can remember was the beautiful, young paramedic lady with light-brown, pixie hair. We are so grateful for your compassionate ways.
We also would like to thank the pretty, young, blond lady who must have been jogging at the time. She was the first to us, followed by a bald gentleman who appeared to be a painter. They got us out of the vehicle and stayed with us until emergency personnel arrived. Thank you, you will be in our thoughts and prayers.
I have lived in Catonsville all my life and feel blessed that there are really wonderful people who are our neighbors to aid us, as well as superb professionals.
Jack and Corinne Larkin
Dave Rakes can be our savior on County Council
"In times like these, we need a Savior," goes the hymn. That will always be the case. In Howard County we, too, have needs: Our nation is at war. We suffer economic downturn and corporate corruption; job layoffs and unemployment; aging communities and populations; problems in education, health care, family and ethnic relations, just to name a few.
But thank God, we also have Dave Rakes! Dave wants to serve us on the Howard County Council from District 2. He won't solve all our problems, but I believe he sure will try.
Dave will bring to the council experience, service and maturity. He knows these are challenging times, requiring seasoned leadership and dedication from our public servants.
Join me in electing Dave Rakes to the Howard County Council from District 2, and let's all help him do the great job of which he is capable.
Emerson C. Walden Sr., M.D.
Grassroots effort drives Bryant Square revitalization
Revitalization of our older neighborhoods is key to the health of our county. As a former resident and now neighbor of the Bryant Square community, I am pleased that its leaders have won funding for a package of revitalization projects.
Like other aging communities in Columbia, Bryant Square has its share of problems: poorly marked property lines make it difficult to identify those responsible for upkeep; aging roads, sidewalks, storm sewers and streetlights; and aging houses.
Bryant Square's efforts to overcome these problems are an example of how revitalization of an area is and should be a grassroots community affair.
The residents there have worked closely with their board of directors, the village board, CA, their County Council member, Mary Lorsung and the police department to reverse trends that can destroy neighborhoods.
This collaboration illustrates what I see as the heart and soul of local government.
The citizens of Bryant Square are showing us how even the oldest parts of Columbia can have a vital and bright future.
Mary Kay Sigaty
The letter writer is a County Council candidate from District 4.
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