By Paula Katinas
Bay Ridge — Nicole Leone can breathe a little easier these days. Nicole, a seventh grader at St. Anselm Catholic School, won’t have to worry about how she is going to get back and forth to school in the eighth grade. She will be able to hop on and off the yellow school bus.
“I’m glad it worked out,” she said.
For months, Nicole has been banned from riding on the school bus, not because of anything she did wrong, but because of a little-known provision in the transportation regulations of the New York City Department of Education (DOE) prohibiting students above Grade 6 from using the yellow school buses.
As the Eagle was the first to report, students beyond the sixth grade are on their own when it comes to getting to and from school. The DOE, which is in charge of pupil transportation for public and private schools in New York City, issues free MetroCards to youngsters, but that’s all the assistance given.
A large group of seventh and eighth graders from St. Anselm School at 467 83rd St. were left at the curb by the DOE’s ruling.
Ironically, the rule has been in place for years. An exception was made for the St. Anselm kids. In January, parents were suddenly notified by letter that their children were no longer permitted to ride the school bus.
For Nicole, who lives with her family in Carroll Gardens, traveling to school in Bay Ridge has been a challenge. She has mostly relied on rides from her mother, Kathy Leone, her aunt, and the parents of school friends.
“I was scared at the thought of taking the subway. There’s a stop where you have to switch to the R train; that’s dangerous,” Nicole said.
Kathy Leone and other outraged parents reached out to state Sen. Marty Golden for help getting their kids back on the bus. Golden introduced a bill in the state Senate to restore the bus service for seventh and eighth graders in New York City Schools. His bill was approved in both the Senate and Assembly. It is currently awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.
“This was an important thing to do to support our families and to ensure the safety of our students,” Golden said.
The bus ban was a hardship on many families who live outside of Bay Ridge but who choose to send their children to Catholic schools here, Golden said.
“At schools such as St. Anselm’s in Bay Ridge, like at many others, this change was causing parents to have to make difficult decisions related to their child’s educational future,” he said.
If Gov. Cuomo signs the legislation into law, Nicole and other students will be able to ride the yellow school bus starting in September, Golden said.
For the Leone family, life without the school bus was a major adjustment. Kathy Leone and her sister-in-law car-pooled to take their kids back and forth to Bay Ridge.
“My daughter, my niece and my nephew were all affected by this,” Kathy Leone, a registered nurse, said. “Between my sister-in-law and me, we went through about $120 a month in gas. We all work, so we had to coordinate our schedules to make sure someone was always available to pick up the kids. But it was worth it. We didn’t want them taking the train to school. You’re talking about 12-year-old kids.”
Nicole said her grades suffered.
“My book bag was too heavy to carry from my classroom, on the fourth floor, down the stairs, out of the building, and into the parking lot. It hurt my back. I had to leave some books behind. My grades dropped,” she said.
She has since improved her grades, she said.
Kathy Leone said her daughter also missed out on the after-school drama club a couple of times.
Leone said she and her fellow parents are grateful to Golden.
“He never gave up,” she said. “I feel like a tremendous burden has been lifted,” she added.
The kids plan to show their appreciation to Golden by presenting him with a “thank you” card, Leone said.