Two mile radius: Parents speak out on fairness of school bus eligibility policy at Board of Ed
Many mothers, fathers, and guardians were present at this weeks Board of Education meeting to speak about busing issues. The board’s policy calls for students who live within a two mile radius of the school they attend can walk to school and are not eligible to take a school bus.
The Board of Ed transportation policy also states that students who live within a mile of Middlesex Middle School or a half a mile from their neighborhood elementary schools are also ineligible for school bus transportation.
At the beginning of the meeting, Board Chairman Tara Ochman spoke about the work the board and administration are currently undergoing to make changes for this issue.
Ochman began by saying that the board has heard the comments made by parents and stated that this is a multi-prompt process. She then said, “If there are individuals who think that their child is unsafe, the board is not the place to come because the board doesn’t have jurisdiction over individual matters. You need to go to the superintendent and I know Dr. Addley has spoken to some of you and he’s happy to guide you through how that process looks like.”
“We encourage any parent who feels that their child is unsafe to have that conversation because the safety our children is the most important thing to all of us,” she said.
Ochman also spoke about the work to be done on policies.
“A review of the policy is always healthy. What we really need is information in order to do that well. So what I’ve asked from the superintendent is to talk to the police department to review our bus routes to see if the police department has any concerns to safety in any particular areas,” Ochman said.
Once that information is retrieved, it will go back to the board. They are also looking to giving the entire walker path to the town to consider any sidewalk projects where they have student pedestrian traffic. With many projects taking place in town, they will work with the town on any projects that cause concern for students walking to schools.
“We hear the concern of parents, I just like to let you know that you really do have to consider what process you’re in at this point. If there is an individual concern, please go to the superintendent so he can talk to you.”
“What I can assure the public of at this moment, we’re well within the state guidelines and that is what also allows parents if they have individual concerns in that state mandate to go to the administration.”
Ochman added that there is a traffic authority in town that can be contacted about any driving or bus concerns.
During public comment, Krista Carnes spoke first about the busing issue. “I believe data rules and it was great to hear you’re putting together more information and I was hoping that some of that information could include additional issues like kids who might have not so much special education needs, but if they have mental health issues and anxiety.”
She continued by saying that walking to school at 6:30 or 7 a.m. on Noroton Avenue is very scary. Carnes also wanted the board to look into the data concerning the cost of how additional busing breaks down.
She said she glad that the board and administration are looking into fixing this issue, but wants the board to look into disproportionately impacted families or neighborhoods like highly dense neighborhoods with lower real estate values and dual working parents. “I couldn’t even drop my son off if I wanted to because it would impact my ability to work.”
Ali Ramsteck, who also serves as the head of Darien’s Human Services Department, then shared her similar concerns. She has two daughters in high school and one in middle school. In November, she received a call from her oldest daughter to pick her up from school because she wasn’t allowed to get on the bus. Luckily, Ramsteck was able to leave work to pick her up. The same situation happened repeatedly and now she has to pick up her daughter at 2:30 p.m. everyday.
“On behalf of all single parents, I’m one myself, and to dual working households, please take serious consideration about this issue,” Ramsteck said.
She said that walking two miles down Noroton Ave and crossing over I-95 is treacherous, but the most disruptive part is, as a working parent, she has to leave in the middle of work at 2:30 every day.
Ramsteck added, “Even as a driver, over that whole 95 intersection, I’m super cautious. People do not follow rules, it’s very dangerous. And I can’t imagine anyone in this room wanting their teenage child to walk there. I appreciate your kind consideration. Dr. Addley and I know this is a big matter and not something that’s going to be resolved quickly.”
Another parent, Elizabeth Lazzara, spoke about the dangers that come with walking on service roads. She began by telling a story of when she was crossing the crosswalk on Noroton Avenue to the Noroton Heights train station when there was no on coming traffic and had the right of way, she was hit by a car taking a left turn. As a single mother, this scared her for her son who has to make the same walk to Middlesex.
"I know there’s a two mile radius, which seems reasonable from a distance perspective but this is a service road for a major interstate highway that’s notorious for a lot of problems. But it’s a service road, it’s not a local road.”
In 2017, a middle school student getting of a school bus near the Post Road was struck after a car passed its flashing lights.
With large driveways by several gas stations, “It’s hard enough to maneuver a car there, but taking a pedestrian into the mix, I can tell you that a lot of cars aren’t expecting pedestrians to even be in the road. It’s just not a pedestrian friendly area.”
“I am very concerned for my son,” Lazzarra said.
Lazzara ended her statement saying, “It’s an insane thing that I don’t think any of you would like your child to go through. Especially with people on their cellphones. You’re asking students to cross entrance ramps and service roads and people making right turns on red.”
“Everybody wants to make a right on red. It’s an accident waiting to happen. So please take it seriously. It’s just a bus, but we need it,” she said.