Published: Sunday, August 26, 2012, 9:00 AM
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - The longer the city resists providing yellow bus service to certain Staten Island seventh- and eighth-graders, the more we have to wonder about the motives of the people making the decisions at the Department of Education.
What kind of people begrudge providing safe transportation to 12- and 13-year old kids, after all?
The saga is well known. Suddenly, in 2009, the city disingenuously claimed that if the DOE provided yellow bus service for seventh- and eighth-grade students on Staten Island, it would have to provide the service for seventh- and eighth-grade students in all five boroughs. “Like circumstances” was the phrase in the state education law the DOE cited as often as it could. On that flimsy basis, the DOE abruptly denied these older Staten Island middle-schoolers the blanket waiver that it had granted for years to let them ride the bus.
But when the state passed a law authored by Assemblyman Michael Cusick and state Sen. Andrew Lanza restoring school bus service to the older students in this borough, the DOE was stripped of its lame “like circumstances” excuse. Clearly, Staten Island students do not face “like circumstances” as students in the other boroughs getting to and from school.
At that point, the reasonable thing would have been for the DOE to shrug off the setback and start letting all otherwise eligible middle-school students ride the school bus. And it seemed that’s what was going to happen when schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott expressed satisfaction with the new law that “allowed” the DOE to provide the bus service it claimed it was forbidden to provide.
However, despite the chancellor’s statement, the city dug in its heels, claiming the law only applied to those schools whose students had gotten the waivers before the DOE changed its policy in 2009. Students at newer schools that didn’t have seventh- and eighth-grade classes at that time are not covered by the restored variance, according to the city’s interpretation.
As a result, seventh- and eighth-grade students at two schools, the Marsh Avenue School and the Staten Island School of Civic Leadership remained banned from yellow buses, even though thousands of other Staten Island seventh- and eighth-grade students can get the service.
The city’s rationale is, once again, wholly spurious. A DOE statement said: “If we were to provide busing to the two schools, then it would trigger the ‘like circumstances’ provision of state law and force us to provide similar busing to all middle schools citywide.”
But the law that Messrs. Lanza and Cusick got passed specifically freed the DOE from the “like circumstances” limit in terms of providing yellow bus service to Staten Island students.
The DOE chooses to continue to be limited by its own narrow, and wrong-headed interpretation of the law in the case of these two schools.
In fact, the law doesn’t pertain to schools, per se, at all, but to students in the seventh and eighth grades — all of them on Staten Island. And the law has nothing in it about the waiver being applied only to schools that existed before a certain date. Again, the city chooses to interpret the law that way.
Why? Certainly, there’s no practical benefit. Younger students at the Marsh Avenue School and the Staten Island School for Civic Leadership still get yellow bus service, so the DOE has to arrange for school buses to transport students to and from those schools in any case.
The only possible motive we can think of is spite. The DOE fought hammer and tong against giving bus service to older students. And then it lost its case in Albany. So its petty and mean-spirited fallback position is that it’s not required to provide service to students in schools that didn’t have seventh- and eighth-grade students in 2009.
Of course, that’s pure nonsense.
So again we ask: What kind of people begrudge providing safe transportation to 12- and 13-year old kids?