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Letters September 22, 2011  RSS feed

Ed. Council: Restore Bus Svce. To School

Editor’s note: The following letter was originally sent to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott by the author and forwarded to this paper. Dear Chancellor Walcott:

School District 30 students and families are in desperate need of your help as an issue has arisen that needs to be addressed quickly.

P.S. 17Q in Astoria, serving kindergarten through fifth grade, has eliminated all yellow buses except those required by IEPs. Our office has received many calls from angry parents who were shocked that their children, as young as five years old were given MetroCards. This threatens the safety of our children and is causing insurmountable problems for many families.

Over the past week, the Community Education Council District 30 (CEC 30) has spoken to parents and school staff, and the issue was also addressed at our calendar meeting on Sept. 15. Before I continue, it is important to note that many who spoke with us, parents and staff, were reluctant to provide names because of fear of retaliation. Even those who provided their names expressed some level of fear of the reaction of the Principal.

The principal of P.S. 17 presented this at the June SLT (school leadership team) meeting where the team supported her recommendation. Unfortunately, the parents on the SLT were not impacted by this decision, did not consider those who were, and not bring it to the general membership for discussion and consideration.

It has been reported that there was little to no outreach. This lack of parent engagement and the absence of discussions with those who are directly affected are unacceptable, especially when an issue is so enormous. The SLT may have approved this but proper protocol was not followed.

There are huge safety issues involved. Young children will inevitably be forced to take mass transit with or without their parents or guardians. Those fortunate enough to have a parent accompany them are forced to spend $9.50 a day, totaling nearly $200 per month. P.S. 17 is a Title 1 school and a large percentage of the students involved reside in the Astoria housing projects. This is not a community that can afford the extra financial burden. If a parent can’t afford the fare, should they send their child alone or keep them home? We all remember the recent story of the seven year old in Brooklyn who was killed walking alone just a few short blocks. This decision puts our students directly in harm’s way.

A recent report from the Independent Budget Office found a strong link between attendance and student performance, especially for students from low income families. This decision by the school adds obstacles and challenges, discourages rather than encourages.

The reason for the elimination of buses, according to the principal, was that the buses put an extra burden on her and her staff—too many suspensions, too much paper work and it takes too much time. While we recognize that busing involves challenges, not least of which are disciplinary which the school has to deal with, it seems to be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater to eliminate busing for young children for the sake of easing the burden on the staff.

It is true that there are, and will always be safety concerns of children on school buses but that threat is minor compared to young children on mass transportation. CEC 30’s motto is to always ask “How is this good for our children?” The Council answers, in one strong, loud voice, “This is not good for our children!”

Our students’ safety is threatened, an unnecessary financial burden is being placed on our neediest families, parents feel they do not have a choice and must accept this, and a school community is fearful of what will happen if they complain. None of the above are acceptable in education and certainly do not support student achievement.

In addition, an indirect outcome of this decision may be that this sets a precedent and other schools may make the same decision. Families and communities will be further distanced from the school and more students in danger all because it’s easier for the school.

It has been said that not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted. We believe that this is one of those times. Immeasurable damage will result should a serious accident take place for the sake of this policy and any savings in cost or aggravation will seem small and insignificant at that time.

Chancellor Walcott, we implore you to look into and reverse this decision, as well as revise the policy that allowed this to happen, and help CEC30 do what is right for our students and communities. This cannot wait.

Issac Carmignani
Community Education Council
District 30