2010-12-10 / Top Stories

Judge: Reinstate Special Busing Program

By Howard Schwach

On the first day of school in September, 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. On the first day of school in September, 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. A Staten Island judge has ruled that the city must reinstate 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 ruling will impact 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. The lawsuit was instituted in September, after the city cut the special program in the wake of budget cuts ordered by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Late in the month, 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 argued 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.

The court basically agreed with Ulrich.

Judge John Fusco, citing Chancellor’s Regulation SA-801, said that the Department of Education was required to provide school buses for “the small number of cases where public transportation facilities are inadequate or unavailable.”

“As of May, 2010, the DOE terminated compliance with their own regulation,” Fusco wrote. “[DOE transportation head Eric] Goldstein testified that the students affected by the elimination of this funding could get to school using public transportation without research of the same. He testified that he felt that it was possible for the [Breezy Point] students to walk the 1.5 miles from Breezy Point to public transportation since other students in other boroughs were required to walk the same distance. Mr. Goldstein was unable to support his conclusion that other students did so, let alone under similar conditions as the Breezy Point students [who had no sidewalks and had to walk on a heavily-trafficked State Road]. The decision to eliminate the funding for yellow bus transportation was made without concern for the welfare and safety of the affected students. This decision must be vacated as it was made in an arbitrary and capricious manner and school bus service must be reinstated.”

DOE officials, however, said that they were disappointed in the judge’s decision and would appeal.

Ulrich was buoyed by the decision.

“Some people say you can’t fight City Hall and win, but they’re wrong. Yesterday’s ruling was a tremendous victory for the parents and children of Rockaway. The judge’s decision concluded what we already knew - that the City made this cut without regard for the safety and welfare of the children. Instead, the bureaucrats at the DOE concocted an ill-conceived budget scheme that left 7th and 8th graders stranded. I am eager to see if the incoming Schools Chancellor will use her business acumen to prevent misguided cuts like these in the future,” Ulrich said.

Bloomberg and the DOE are not giving up without a fight, however.

Abigail Goldenberg, a senior counsel with the New York City Law Department said, “The City and its Department of Education strongly disagree with the Court’s conclusion that the DOE’s budgetary decision to discontinue yellow-bus transportation for 7th and 8th graders in Staten Island and on the Rockaway Peninsula was arbitrary and capricious. In determining that these students must be provided yellow-bus transportation, while 7th and 8th graders throughout the rest of the City are not, the Court ignored both the law and the record and equity. We will be taking an immediate appeal, and will invoke our automatic stay.”

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