By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Kathleen Leone’s daughter came home from Saint Anselm Catholic School on Jan. 6 with a note informing her that the yellow school bus her seventh-grader had been taking back and forth to school since kindergarten would no longer be available as of Jan. 9.
“I was shocked. We parents got no notice at all. They tell us on a Friday that our kids couldn’t take the bus anymore and that the restriction was going to start Monday,” Leone said.
Leone is one of a group of a dozen or so parents whose children attend St. Anselm School at 365 83rd St. in Bay Ridge, but who live outside the community and who have relied on a yellow school bus funded by the Department of Education for transportation to and from school.
Leone, who lives in Carroll Gardens, said she chose St. Anselm School for her daughter partly because transportation was provided.
The parents were informed that the bus service was being taken away from their children because of a Dept. of Education rule prohibiting students above the sixth grade from taking the bus.
The bus service is provided to children only up to the sixth grade, under Dept. of Education rules.
It means that St. Anselm students in the seventh and eighth grades are left stranded with no rides.
The Dept. of Education provides transportation services to non-public schools.
The Dept. of Education’s Office of Pupils Transportation Services did provide the St. Anselm kids with free Metrocards to take the subway or a city bus to school.
“But the Metrocard doesn’t go into effect until Feb. 1,” said Leone. “Talk about adding insult to injury.”
For Catholic school kids, the elimination of the bus service is a hardship.
“Our children have never taken mass transportation with us, never mind by themselves,” Leone said. “This is a safety issue. There’s no way I’m letting my daughter take the F train.”
It’s not fair to expect youngsters to suddenly learn the city’s subway system in the middle of the school year, Leone said.
To ease the nervousness of their children, the parents have been taking turns car-pooling the kids to and from school.
Not everyone has that option, however.
“I’m a single parent. I work,” said Linda Cesaria, whose son is a St. Anselm student. “Also, I have a small car. The other parents have vans. I can’t fit a lot of kids in my car.”
Parents have been calling the Office of Pupil Transportation Services to complain about the sudden elimination of the bus service. The parents were told that they could apply for variances on an individual basis to get their kids seats on the yellow school bus. But variances are granted only for medical reasons, parents were told.
Cesaria, whose son has cerebral palsy, said she intends to file for a variance.
“I hate the idea of it, because I’ve always tried to have him treated as an able-bodied child. I’ve always told him that he can do anything,” she said.
Parents have reached out to elected officials for help. Councilman Vincent Gentile is looking into the matter.
Relief may indeed come from lawmakers, according to John Quaglione, deputy chief of staff for state Sen. Marty Golden.
“The senator is working on a bill with Sen. Lanza to mandate that the bus service continue for seventh- and eighth-grade students,” Quaglione said.
State Sen. Andrew Lanza, of Staten Island, has already introduced a bill to restore service citywide. Golden has signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill.
Quaglione said Golden believes the Dept. of Education needs to reassess its transportation policy.
“We’re going to be hearing more about this problem. It isn’t just at St. Anselm School,” Quaglione said. “And it’s hitting the Catholic schools hard. As more of the Catholic schools close, parents who want to give their children a Catholic education have to enroll their kids in schools away from their neighborhoods. It brings up transportation issues.”
Margie Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the Dept. of Education, said the agency eliminated school bus service for seventh- and eighth-graders in February of 2010.
“We eliminated it citywide,” she said. “We’re looking into this.”
Feinberg said she was not sure why the service had continued at St. Anselm until this point. She also was surprised to learn that the Metrocards given to the St. Anselm youngsters were not usable.
“We’ll look into that, too,” she said.
January 12, 2012 - 1:01pm