Court Considers DOE Cut Of Busing Program
A judge in a Staten Island courtroom will soon decide whether or not the city’s Department of Education had the right to end a 40-year-old busing program that transported students at special schools and those who live in areas with no public transportation to and from their school buildings.
The cut impacts students who attend the Scholars’ Academy in Rockaway Park, as well as those students who live in Breezy Point and attend local public and parochial schools.
A lawsuit to restore the special busing program was brought in State Supreme Court in Staten Island a week ago, just after the cuts were announced.
This week, however, City Councilman Eric Ulrich and a local parent, Maureen McVeigh, were given leave by the court to join the lawsuit on behalf of all the students in Community School District 27, which includes Rockaway.
For the last 40 years, Ulrich argues in his court papers, the Department of Education has provided free yellow buses to students attending special programs such as the Scholars’ Academy, a magnet program for District 27 that draws many students from both Breezy Point and the mainland.
This year, however, due to budget cuts, the DOE did away with the special buses for both seventh and eighth grade students, leaving parents to fend for themselves or to put young students on public transportation. A number of parents told a Wave reporter earlier this week that they considered the public transportation option “a non-starter” because of the dangers inherent in putting an 11- or 12-year-old on the bus or subway.
In addition, areas such as Breezy Point, the gated private community at the western tip of the peninsula, has no public transportation option whatsoever, parents say.
“My son is in the seventh grade, and he came here because the city provided a bus last year,” one parent from Howard Beach, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution against her son, said. “They promised us the buses and he started here. This is a good school and I don’t want to have to pull him out, but I’m not able to drive him here and pick him up each day, and I won’t put him on public transportation because it’s not safe.”
In addition, she pointed out, children who take the MTA bus have to cross both Rockaway Beach Boulevard and the Rockaway Freeway to get to the school, something else she considers dangerous.
On Monday, dozens of cars belonging to parents of students clogged Beach Channel Drive at Beach 103 Street, parking two and three deep awaiting dismissal of the Scholars’ Academy.
Ulrich argued in court that the children of Rockaway “face a significant disparity in terms of time spent commuting as opposed to students in other parts of the city.”
He said that the city’s determination to make the busing cuts has “no rational basis” and should be reviewed.
“The city has left the residents of Rockaway and other neighborhoods to fend for themselves and is placing thousands of children at risk by making it difficult for them to get to and from school. Nevertheless, I am optimistic that the judge will eventually rule in our favor when presented with all the evidence,” Ulrich said. “Locally, six schools in the 32nd Council District are impacted by the ruling: PS 114, St. Francis de Sales, Scholars’ Academy, St Camillus, St. Rose of Lima, and PS 47. Because buses for these schools are still serving younger children along the same route and have empty seats, I am skeptical the decision to eliminate service for 7th and 8th graders will achieve any cost savings for the city.”
A Department of Education spokesperson, however, said that the cut was necessary because of deep budget cuts this year.