Woodside Parents Demand Buses For Students
Parents in Woodside’s Big Six apartment complex again pressed Department of Education (DOE) officials at last Tuesday’s (Mar. 25) District 24 Community Education Council (CEC 24) meeting to provide school buses for their children to attend P.S. 229 in Maspeth.
The parents argued the DOE should grant a safety waiver for P.S. 229 students living at the Big Six because the children currently have to walk through dangerous intersections on their way to school.
Alexandra Robinson, executive director for the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) heard parents say they want bus seats for their children, even if DOE rules prohibit providing rides to students living less than a mile from the school.
The apartment complex is more than a half-mile from the school, but not far enough under OPT rules to be eligible for school buses. Regulations from the DOE do not provide bus rides for general education students in third grade or above living a less than a mile from school.
For many years, children living in the Big Six complex were bussed to school under a long-standing waiver from the DOE. That waiver was eliminated in fall 2011. Children are now asked to cross a winding walking route to the school, leaving many parents are unhappy.
Since the waiver was eliminated, “all of a sudden,” according to CEC District 24 President Nick Comaianni, kids walking to P.S. 229 have been put in danger.
To provide a safe alternative, the DOE mapped out a walking path for students. In response to parents complaints that the route was unsafe, Comaianni and board members walked the first desired route, and “as we were walking one kid almost got hit” he said.
A second walking path was created, and according to parents, the current DOE route which crosses Queens Boulevard is not safe for young children to walk either.
At last Tuesday’s meeting, Comaianni asked Robinson if there had been any change on the variance issue and reiterated he would like to see a safety waiver granted.
The previous route asked kids to cross through a dangerous BQE offramp and regularly congested Laurel Hill Boulevard.
Parents can apply to the DOE for a safety variance that would allow their kids bus seats, but have been denied, according to Comaianni.
“I wouldn’t let personally my kids walk that route,” he said.
When asked why variances were denied, Comaianni said “[they] never gave us a concrete answer.”
He added he feels good reason has not been given by DOE or OPT. “It’s like pleading the Fifth,” he said, They stuck to their response. It’s policy, policy, policy.”
When Robinson was questioned by council members about the variances being denied she said, “we want to make sure kids are safe on school buses.”
“When one is not available, we provide a pedestrian path.”
According to Robinson, the variance denial has been appealed on three occasions and rejected each time by the state.
Other District 24 council members also questioned Robinson on the reasoning for the decision to ask children to walk to school and voiced similar frustration over the lack of explanation
“We heard your reasoning, and it’s not a reason,” Bill Kregler said. “It’s an excuse.”
Dmytro Fedkowskyj, a former Queens representative on the Panel for Educational Policy, said at the meeting, “the logic is not there.”
He was frustrated by the lack of action and added he feels the safety of students remains a concern.
“It’s unacceptable nothing has happened in two years,” he said. “Students have been hit walking to school.”
Fedkowskyj served on the PEP from 2008-2013.
In response, Robinson told the group she was there to get feedback from the community and “it’s not within my power make a decision this evening.”
She added, “we can revisit it.”
Several members also voiced their displeasure over buses that will not pick up Big Six students despite arriving at PS 229 half-full.
Robinson told council members and parents in attendance that bus routes are audited by DOE “at least three times a year” to provide the correct amount of seats for students in every district across the city.
She further explained it can be difficult to know what districts are in need of more seats, and which are not used to capacity because it depends on quick reports from drivers and bus companies.
She also made clear that most general education students share buses with kids from other schools and that significant variation can exist in numbers of riders. This is because it is not a fixed number throughout the school year.
Some days kids get rides from their parents to school, or miss the miss the bus entirely. This leaves open seats on that day, giving parents the impression the bus wasn’t full, but that same student still is guaranteed a school bus seat and may occupy the seat the day after.
According to normal DOE regulations, students less than a mile from their school are not eligible for busing unless granted a waiver, even if buses to their school aren’t at capacity.