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A group of parents and elected officials who are furious over the last-minute cancellation of yellow bus service for middle school students in College Point held another protest Friday morning, two days after an education representative got an earful on the matter.
About 25 people gathered in the dark at 6th Avenue and College Point Boulevard to wait for the yellow bus, which now only picks up sixth-graders.
Or more accurately, it picks up one sixth-grader.
“There are normally 35 kids on that bus,” said City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), pointing to the yellow behemoth in which a single student had taken a seat near the front.
College Point has no middle or high schools and there are no plans to build any in the next decade.
Parents had long relied on yellow buses to transport sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders more than a mile away to schools in Whitestone and Flushing, a process that was discontinued citywide this school year.
Most parents found out in the spring, but parents of JHS 194 found were informed less than 24 hours before the first day of class Sept. 7 through a robocall from Principal Richard Garino.
They were not pleased.
But the larger issue is that students aged 11 to 13 would to take a series of three city buses in the predawn dark in order to get to school, a prospect that alarmed many parents.
Darren Kaplan would not let his 13-year-old daughter walk the half mile to the bus stop in the dark along a route suggested by the DOE.
“Along the route they sent us, there is a registered sex offender,” he said.
Some parents have sixth-grade children who take the bus, but seventh- and eighth-grade children who cannot, even while the buses leave College Point nearly empty.
In response to the growing call for the city to reinstate bus service, the DOE released a statement.
“DOE staff has met with parents at the school to address their concerns. Students are eligible for student MetroCards. A parent, based on where he or she lives, may still apply for a variance,” the statement said.
At a Nov. 2 meeting of Community Education Council District 25, Gerald Conquest, of the DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation, pledged to pass along community complaints.
“This was a total failure of government. One of many,” Halloran said to Conquest, who silently bore the brunt of the heated rebuke.
The city has defended its actions by saying that to bus the middle and high school students would be giving them special treatment compared to other parts of the city, according to Halloran, who disagreed and said northeast Queens does not have the public transportation infrastructure and density of schools to be treated the same as Manhattan or Brooklyn.
Lawmakers in Staten Island sued the city over this same issue and won, according to Halloran, but the city took it to federal court and ultimately prevailed.
But officials have an even more effective trick up their sleeves, according to state Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Electchester), who said legislation that has passed in the state Senate and is currently under review in the Assembly would require the city to provide yellow buses for any student who lives more than a mile away from a middle or high school.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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