Parents of students at the Scholars’ Academy in Rockaway, concerned over the city Department of Education’s decision to cut yellow school bus service, met Sept. 15 to address the issue.
More than 100 parents gathered in the auditorium of the school to hear Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and attorney and former Councilman Tom Ognibene speak about a lawsuit filed against the city regarding the cuts. Ulrich joined the lawsuit, brought by three Staten Island council members, against the DOE in response to the elimination of nearly 4,600 school bus variances for seventh and eighth grade students citywide, most of them on Staten Island.
While the DOE typically only provides busing for students through sixth grade, the agency had granted a variance for seventh and eighth grades at certain schools. The city said this month it would discontinue the bus service for those grades to save money.
“I came here on the first day of school last week and it was chaotic at dismissal,” Ulrich said. “They were too many cars on the road. I just said to myself ‘this is ridiculous.’”
Given the financial constraints of the city, Ulrich understood the need to make cuts, but not ones that affect children.
“You can’t balance the books on the backs of kids who are just trying to go to school and come back safe,” Ulrich said.
Many students from Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Woodhaven had been using the yellow buses to commute to the school.
“Eliminating bus service is the last thing that you should take away from the students,” said Ognibene, who is representing the plaintiffs against the city in the suit. “The city has a wide discretion to make their budget cuts. But what they have to do is appeal to a certain standard.”
Ognibene noted the purpose of the lawsuit is to prove that cuts can be made in other areas.
One parent, Suzanne Shaughnessy of Breezy Point, was upset over the decision. In response, she wrote a letter to New York State Education Commissioner David Steiner protesting the decision. While Shaughnessy received a reply back, she said it didn’t address her concerns. Her son, however, did get a MetroCard to use for public transportation.
“My son has to walk two miles,” she said
Shaughnessy is still surprised over the decision to cut off the busing. “I didn’t think they would actually do it,” she said.
Testimony in the lawsuit is continuing this week.
Other Queens students affected by the bus cuts attend PS/IS 266 in Bayside and PS 229 in Woodside.