Woodside parents want bus service for their kids

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Parents of P.S. 229 are seeing red, claiming the Department of Education (DOE) is attempting to save some green by endangering their children and denying them yellow bus service.

Residents of the Big Six Towers in Woodside are furious with the DOE for rejecting a hazard variance for their children who are forced to cross a dangerous intersection on their way to and from school each day.

Parents believe the threat warrants an exception to the DOE’s policy, which does not provide school bus service to children in grades three through six if they live within a mile of school.

“I’m outraged. They are pretty much saying that my daughter’s life is not worth $100,000, because that’s what I’ve been told is the magic number to have a bus go to and from a school all year,” said Michelle Kates, who drives her fourth grader to P.S. 229 each day. “To say that we don’t have a hazard is absurd. What the mayor is doing is criminal.”

Other parents have expressed indignation that their children are denied entrance to a “half-empty” bus which visits the Big Six daily to transport students between kindergarten and second grade.

“There are no resources being saved here. The bus is still here and it is virtually empty,” said Thomas Haggerty, whose son is a fourth grader at P.S. 229. “I think the DOE is playing games.”

Haggerty says the variance was in place for 45 years before being removed before the 2010 school year, and that the DOE never provided parents with a reason for the change.

Between January 2010 and September 2011, the DOE has approved only 16 percent of hazard variances citywide – with a mere five percent permitted for students attending public schools in Queens. Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer says the DOE has also reported that the policy shift on variances is saving the city between $1 and $3 million.

Van Bramer rallied with parents and members of Community Education Council District 24 on March 8 to protest the DOE’s suggested “safe route” for the children of P.S. 229, which involves crossing the service road of the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway and other heavily-trafficked intersections.

According to DOE spokesperson Margie Feinberg, the intersection causing concern for P.S. 229 parents has both a traffic signal and a sidewalk along the underpass. Feinberg also said the DOE only reviews individual requests for variances since eliminating school-wide waivers two years ago.

Despite the DOE’s safety assurances, Van Bramer and a number of Big Six residents have reported multiple accidents at two separate intersections along the route within the past few weeks.

“Our children rely on the DOE to keep them safe and they are in charge of ensuring that safety,” said Van Bramer. “But the DOE is completely ignoring this obvious hazard which sits in between the children’s homes and their school. Each day the chances of a tragedy occurring at this intersection increase and I’m not going to stand by while the DOE continues to put our children’s lives in harm’s way.”