A member of an influential city panel is concerned about perilous pathways getting between kids and their education.
Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Queens representative for the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), is rallying parents across the borough to support a proposal that will eliminate ambiguity from the process of determining which children with dangerous intersections on their way to school will be provided with yellow bus service.
“I’m introducing something citywide that would create a committee formed by both the Department of Education (DOE) and Community Education Council (CEC) that would review what qualifies for hazard variance and approve applications for hazard variance,” said Fedkowskyj. “This would make the review process more transparent.”
According to Fedkowskyj, many children had hazard variances allowing them bus service to and from school, but the DOE rescinded numerous cases over the last 18 months.
“These kids that had these variances that are traveling on these dangerous intersections had the opportunity to take yellow buses two years ago,” he said. “But over the last 18 months the DOE reviewed their situation and deemed them not qualified because they were too close. But they didn’t tell anyone how they came to this conclusion.”
The city provides yellow bus service or MetroCards for kindergartners to second graders who live more than half a mile from their school, according to the DOE’s web site. Children in grades three through six can receive bus service or MetroCards if they live more than a mile from school.
Roughly 3,700 students currently receive city busing to schools under variances – with roughly 500 in Queens – according to DOE spokesperson Marge Feinberg.
“Parents may request individual variances for their children,” Feinberg said. “These requests are reviewed by our Office of Pupil Transportation. The Queens Borough President’s Panel representative proposed a resolution making certain recommendations about the variance process. Several Panel members expressed a desire to learn more about the process, and DOE will be discussing it with them.”
Fedkowskyj’s proposal, called the Safety Hazard Advisory Review Program (SHARP), would create a committee in each of the city’s 32 school districts. To be approved, the policy will have to receive votes from seven of the 13 members of PEP, who are appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and each borough president. The voting will occur at a public hearing on February 9 at Brooklyn Tech High School.
Fedkowskyj says all seven CECs in Queens have expressed support for the proposal – including CEC District 24, which passed a resolution.
Nick Comaianni, president of CEC24, believes children who attend P.S. 229 and live in the Big Six Towers in Woodside should receive yellow bus service due to the traffic conditions at the intersection of Laurel Hill Boulevard and 61st Street – a nine-lane street near the off ramp for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
“I think the condition is definitely hazardous,” said Comaianni, who claims Big Six had the most variances rejected from one particular location in the city. “When you look at that, you always have to ask yourself whether a 9 year old has enough sense to make that walk alone, and the answer is no.”
Parents from the Big Six, which is located roughly eight-tenths of a mile from P.S. 229, have expressed outrage that their children are expected to put their lives in danger to get school – particularly when nearly empty school buses visit the building complex each day.
“Our unique situation is that the bus we are discussing still comes to Big Six in the morning and afternoon for kindergarten through grade two, and the bus is about a third full,” said Thomas Haggerty, who pays for private busing for his son, a fourth grader at P.S. 229. “So we are talking about a virtually empty bus, and the older kids at P.S. 229 were put out in the cold and told their intersection was deemed safe.”
Other parents have witnessed the danger and destruction at the intersection firsthand.
“I was in a terrible accident in the exact spot where they want my kids to cross,” said Doris Stroman, who son is a first grader at P.S. 229. “The fear is beyond words. [The DOE] is justifying this by saying parents have to teach their kids how to cross safely. I’m an adult, but I couldn’t prevent getting into an accident when an 18-wheeler blew a red light. If the driver couldn’t see me, how can they see a kid? They are waiting for a tragedy to happen. I don’t know if they are waiting for someone to die.”