After the city revoked yellow bus service for some elementary students at PS 229 in Woodside last year, parents say they fear for their children’s lives and many will not allow the youngsters to walk to school along the route suggested by the Department of Education that includes crossing a busy intersection near an off ramp for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
Parents and their children, many of whom live in the Big Six towers in Woodside, gathered at the intersection of 61st Street and Laurel Hill Boulevard this week to protest the DOE’s refusal to grant them a hazard variance, which would allow students in third through fifth grade to take the yellow school bus to class and which Woodside residents had received from the city for about four decades before 2010. The city eliminated a policy that allowed entire schools to seek variances and now only accepts individuals to apply for them.
“I really am scared for my daughter’s life,” said Michelle Kates of her 9-year-old child. “I lost my job because I was late after bringing her to school. But for me, it’s worth it knowing my daughter is safe. I’m outraged that the city gave us this route.”
The DOE only provides bus transportation for students in kindergarten through second grade in the city, which parents and education officials say leaves buses more than half empty and forces children to traverse dangerous roadways to walk to school. The city will not pay for transportation for students who live less than a mile from a school, forcing them to walk or find their own rides — which the Woodside parents said is a disaster waiting to happen.
Parents noted that the route the DOE suggests to get to PS 229 is eight-tenths of a mile, while another route, which runs along Queens Boulevard but which some said could be minimally safer, is a little more than a mile.
“Last year my wife and I paid $1,000 for a private transportation service to bring my son to and from school, and this year we’re paying $500 out of pocket for a service to bring my son to school because there’s no way we’re going to let him walk this route,” Tom Haggerty said.
Marge Feinberg, a DOE spokeswoman, said the city has taken efforts to ensure students’ safety.
The city Department of Transportation “created a crosswalk and NYPD provided a crossing guard at an intersection students use to get to school,” Feinberg wrote in an email. “A parent, based on where he or she lives, may still apply for an individual variance.”
Parents said while the crosswalk still exists, there is no crossing guard this year to aid students.
“The Department of Education’s decision to discontinue this bus was wrong and reckless and needs to be reversed,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said. “That’s why we’ve supported the parents and families all the way through this process as they ultimately head toward litigation and suing the DOE.”
Community Education Council 24 President Nick Comaianni said his group last week unanimously threw its support behind a proposal by Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Queens borough president’s appointee on the city Panel for Educational Policy, to create a program that would require the city to better inform the public as to how it grants variances —and why the officials often don’t.
“This problem has become enormous,” Comaianni said. “The route these kids are taking is dangerous.”
CEC 24 member Bill Kregler agreed.
“This would not cost the city anything more to provide busing for these kids because the bus is more than half empty already,” Kregler said. “The city is playing Russian roulette with our kids’ safety.”