The state Assembly and Senate approved legislation last week that requires the city to provide the school bus service it had dropped for some seventh- and eighth-grade students in College Point this year, relieving parents of children who have had to trek for hours on public transportation to get to and from class in Whitestone.
“I was ecstatic with joy,” said Annemarie Murphy, a College Point resident whose eighth grade son was spending nearly four hours a day traveling to and from JHS 194. “I’m a single parent and work many jobs, so it was very difficult, very inconvenient and very nerve-wracking.”
The legislation, which was sponsored by a number of delegates from north Queens and still needs a stamp of approval from Gov. Cuomo, is the final chapter in a months-long battle waged by elected officials and parents against the city Department of Education.
Four years ago, the city announced it would not provide yellow bus service for seventh- and eighth-grade students citywide. A group of Staten Island parents then successfully sued the city, which resulted in bus service for the island, as well as for students in College Point, who face similar limited public transportation options as their peers on Staten Island.
However, Mayor Bloomberg’s administration appealed to federal court, and the decision was overturned, allowing the city to eliminate the yellow bus service at the beginning of this year.
Once signed, the law will allow students in College Point, Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn to once again land schoolwide waivers and receive yellow bus service.
Educators, parents and elected officials said this is especially important for students living in College Point, because the closest middle school to them is in Whitestone. In order for them to get to JHS 194, students had to take two or three MTA buses and often had to cross busy intersections while walking to the bus stops.
“This alleviates lateness to a very large degree,” said Ann Lippert, the parent coordinator at JHS 194. “The safety issue itself is the most important. We were blessed with a mild winter, so we were lucky. Our children made it safely to and from school. It’s a miracle nothing happened. I keep my fingers crossed and pray all the time.”
Legislators from northern Queens said they too are breathing a collective sigh of relief.
“It’s about time that we see a common sense solution to a ridiculous problem,” said Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), who helped to lead the charge against the DOE earlier this year and held a press conference earlier this week praising state legislators for passing the bill. “The city literally left these kids out in the dark, adding hours to their commute to school.”
State Sens. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) said they too are pleased students will be able to more easily get to school.
The city’s previous decision exposed students to “situations that they may not be mature enough to handle,” Avella said.
“Students should be allowed to concentrate on their studies,” he continued. “They don’t need the added stress of worrying about how they are going to get home.”