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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Shutting down their shortcut

Jeff Schmucker Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:14 PM

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Parents and sheriff's office officials say a misunderstanding and some misinformation has resulted in a back entrance to the Brookridge Community being closed.

Now parents are protesting the action, saying the move has put children in danger by their having to walk home for miles along busy roads.

On Wednesday, parents and others waved at vehicles and held various signs against the Brookridge Community Board of Directors vote last week to close their long-used back gate near three public schools.

Then, many in the group — Brookridge residents themselves — had to disperse roughly 30 minutes after the nearby elementary and middle school let out to avoid themselves being locked out by a security guard.

Initially, Brookridge parents didn't know who to blame for the decision to keep the gate closed. A letter from the Brookridge board pointed residents to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

Lt. Mike Burzumato said that was because what kicked off discussions of closing the gate to students was his office contacting Brookridge Community representatives to tell them his crossing guard would no longer open and close their back gate in the morning and afternoons.

However, he said soon the board of directors was telling others that the sheriff's office was no longer putting a crossing guard at the rear entrance, which wasn't true.

"The only thing we said to them was that they had to open and close their own gate and that our crossing guard couldn't double as their security guard," Burzumato said. "Then the board held a meeting behind closed doors and decided to close the gate."

Despite a call made to George Starr, president of the Brookridge Board of Directors, he did not return messages by press deadline.

After a letter was sent out from the board to Brookridge parents telling parents to call the sheriff's office with their concerns, Burzumato said he spoke to parents throughout a two-day period.

Since last week, a group of parents have been fuming over the decision.

Jennifer McGowan, whose daughter goes to West Hernando Middle School, said so far Brookridge board members and parents are at a standstill and that the board refuses to reconsider their decision to permanently close the gate to students starting Monday.

She said the group is telling parents that the gate is being closed due to a "security risk," although no more specifics than that are given.

School district officials also aren't going to provide transportation, since the students live within two miles of their zoned schools. McGowan said it doesn't matter that students have to walk as much as five miles around Brookridge to get to the various school entrances.

"Our children will have to walk down State Road 50 (Cortez Boulevard) to either Grove Street or Sunshine Grove Road," McGowan wrote. "Neither of these three streets have sidewalks.

"On top of that, Sunshine Grove is still under construction, making these conditions even worse for our children. Not only is the construction an issue, but some of our children would have to walk these streets in the pre-dawn hours of the morning and have a great chance of being harmed by cars."

Doug Compton, transportation director for the school district, said there is little his office can do.

The state doesn't provide funding to transport students living within the two-mile radius of the schools. If buses were provided to Brookridge, the district would shoulder the full cost, which would total an estimated $100,000.

"I don't understand their logic with closing the gate and certainly we were there at their meeting and offered to assist them in any way we could," Compton said. "It's unfortunate because the students are the ones having to suffer here.

"But based on the parents who were there, I would say this isn't over yet," he added.

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