Last Thursday, two officials from the Department of Education walked to and from Woodside’s PS 229, just as about 30 students must often do every day, though parents and members of Community Education Council 24 contend the route is dangerous.
Eric Goldstein, chief executive of the DOE’s Office of Support Services, and Alexandra Robinson, the executive director of the DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation, were invited by CEC 24 to make the walk, in an effort to convince them to reinstate bus service for third through sixth graders who live in the Big Six apartment complex over a half mile from the school.
Bus service for these children was eliminated 16 months ago when the DOE decided to lift a safety waiver that had been in place for more than 40 years. Under OPT regulations, children from third grade up are not eligible for buses if their school is less than a mile away, unless they are granted a safety waiver individually.
On the day of the walk, traffic whizzed by at 61st Street and Laurel Hill Boulevard, directly in front of the Big Six complex. Laurel Hill runs east-west along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, on both its north and south sides, and a tangle of off- and on-ramps near the intersection make it challenging to get to the other side of the expressway’s underpass. But this is exactly what students walking to school from Big Six must do.
“It’s not 90 degree angles,” Bill Kregler, a CEC 24 member, said of the streets. There are “high blind spots,” he added. “You have to commit yourself to the intersection.”
Goldstein, Robinson, Kregler, CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni, parents and others made the 20-minute walk to school together, sometimes pausing when Kregler or Comaianni pointed out a particularly dangerous spot along the route as Goldstein listened.
Beyond questions of safety, the walk is relatively long. “Can you imagine walking this whole way on a cold winter day?” Comaianni asked at one point.
Once they reached the school, at 68th Street and Maurice Avenue, they walked back along a different route, trekking up 69th Street before turning left on Queens Boulevard. Throughout, people often had to shout over the din of traffic to be heard.
“If you just put your human hat on, can you see children walking this way?” Connie Partinico, a CEC 24 member, asked after turning off Queens Boulevard.
Tracey Haggerty, whose son is 9 years old and in the fourth grade at PS 229, said she doesn’t let him walk alone. She either goes with him or drives him.
During the walk, “I’m dragging him,” Haggerty said. “I’m telling him to hold on.” Driving is also difficult, as “that makes craziness over there,” she said, referring to the school.
At walk’s end, Goldstein gave a short statement. “We came out here to walk and listen,” he said.
Kregler considered the walk, which he said he hoped was a mere formality, a success. “We appreciate them giving us their time and effort,” he said. “Busing is the safest way to get to school,”
A few days after the walk, Kregler said he hoped to have an answer from the DOE as to whether they would reinstitute busing by the CEC 24’s meeting next week.