By Linh Bui

HARFORD COUNTY, Md. (WJZ)—Welcome back, teachers and students! Monday marks the first day of school for thousands of students in Maryland. But in Harford County, the new year brings two major changes, which parents and students are not happy about.

Linh Bui explains.

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One by one, they file in. Backpacks and pencils ready. School and county leaders were along for the ride, an annual tradition on the first day of school.

It’s a “new beginning for everybody. Very exciting,” said Barbara Canavan, interim superintendent of Harford County Schools.

But this year, there are two controversial changes.

First: a new pay-to-play policy.  If a kid joins a club, it’ll cost $25.  For sports teams, it’s $50.

Some argue the new fee “really severely impact children who come from poor families, who won’t be able to afford being able to play,” said Harford County Executive David Craig.

Second: Several bus routes were cut. High school magnet students must now use bus stops farther away from home.

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“So the parents will actually have to drive somewhere. Take them to a bus stop. Then they would go to their magnet program,” Craig explained.

“It’s just not fair. I was told when I applied to this place that I would have transportation, and now they’re just like ‘Nope,’” said Eric Debye, Harford County student.

The school board faces a $20 million budget deficit, but parents complain about how changes were implemented.

“Just the way that decisions have been made without the consultation of the parents and the students,” said Nancy Purdy, Harford County parent.

The interim superintendent would not comment on the new policies, saying Monday is all about the kids.

“Everyone is energized and ready to go. We’re certainly ready for kids to be learning new things and teachers to be teaching new things in a different way,” Canavan said.

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The school board blames the deficit on a cut in state funding and an increase in expenditures.

Linh Bui