Parents of children at PS 229 in Woodside had a direct message for those in charge of school bus transportation at the city’s Department of Education on Feb. 29.
“We’re not going to wait for a child to become a statistic, for somebody to get killed, before you fix something you know is wrong,” said parent John McMorrow.
The “something” in question was the decision 16 months ago by the Office of Public Transportation to eliminate busing for children at PS 229 in grades 3 through 6 who live in the Big Six apartment complex on Queens Boulevard.
The move forces children who walk to school to cross through a convoluted intersection near an off ramp for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
The complex is more than a half mile from the school but less than a mile, meaning, under regular OPT regulations, children in that range are not eligible for buses upon entering third grade, despite having a safety waiver for more than four decades.
Members of Community Education Council 24, who support putting the older children back on the bus, held their monthly meeting at PS 229 in an effort to bring parents and OPT officials together.
“You can have children as young as 8 years old walking through that intersection,” Cecilia Ronconi said.
“My son rode the bus through sixth grade,” said Michelle Kates, both before and during the meeting. “Two years later my 9-year-old daughter can’t. What has changed?”
“I wouldn’t even want my 13-year-old daughter walking along that route,” Genny Fricano said.
They were among about 50 parents and education officials who attended the meeting to call for reinstituting the waiver.
Alexandra Robinson, the executive director of OPT, and Eric Goldstein, executive director of student support services, said safety is their primary concern.
CEC member Bill Kregler said there would be no additional cost to the city, as there would not be a need for another bus.
“We’re not asking you for something new,” Kregler said. “We want to put children in empty seats on a bus that already comes here.”
Goldstein said under the state’s “like circumstances” regulations, they would be forced to offer the same options for every school — public and private — in the city, something parents disbelieved.
“That’s why it is called a waiver,” one said.
Goldstein and Robinson also said the parents would have to demonstrate that circumstances had changed in the last 16 months in order to reverse the decision, to which parents and officials said things like implementation of the Maspeth bypass last fall increased the amount of truck traffic coming off the BQE.
Still others pointed out that the number of parents who have decided to drive their children rather than let them walk adds just that much more traffic for walkers to contend with.
OPT officials were less clear on what changed two years ago to remove the waiver in the first place, though Kregler, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni were among the more than one dozen people who asked the question repeatedly.
”It was probably reviewed, in 2007 or 2008,” Goldstein said. “Maybe they found there were more traffic lights and stop signs than there were 40 years ago.”
In response the next day to an email seeking a more concrete answer, DOE Spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said: “Two years ago we eliminated school-wide waivers. Parents may request individual waivers for their children.”
A subsequent email seven minutes later stated that the DOE conducted a thorough review as a result of eliminating the PS 229 waiver.
“The review determined that the intersection over which concern had been expressed has both a traffic signal and a sidewalk along the underpass [beneath the BQE],” Feinberg wrote. She added that K through 2 students still receive busing, and that parents could apply for individual waivers.
Van Bramer took cold comfort in the individual waiver option.
“Sixteen percent are granted citywide,” he said. “And in Queens? It’s 5 percent ... This is one of the worst decisions I have seen in my entire life.”
Parent Tom Haggerty said that while last year there were two traffic enforcement agents at the Laurel Hill crosswalk, there were none this year, something confirmed by the Chronicle on Friday and Monday.
A crossing guard was present outside the school both mornings.
But last Friday also saw an accident involving two vans on Lauren Hill Boulevard during the morning rush hour.
The Chronicle could not determine if the accident took place before or during the period while children passed through the intersection on their way to the school.