More than 60 parents packed the Westbury High School library Thursday to voice their frustrations with what they call chaotic and unsafe transportation changes as a result of the elementary school reconfiguration.
The school rolled out the new elementary school reconfiguration last week and now instead of being separated by grade level, all elementary school buildings house grades 1 to 5 and students attend whichever school is closest to them. With the start of the school year, many parents found themselves not only sending their kids to a new school, but caught off- guard when they found out their child would no longer be eligible to take a bus to school.
H. Hendricks has a 9-year-old daughter who now has to walk through New Cassel to get to Park Avenue, a change he is not happy about.
“It’s a safety issue. My daughter has to walk half- a-mile,” he said. “We have to take into consideration the weather in the winter, and New Cassel isn’t like the rest of Westbury, there are sex offenders and pedophiles.”
Board President Dr. Pless Dickerson said the transportation policy allows busing for children from Pre-K to second grade who live two-tenths of a mile or more away; from grades 3 to 6 who live more than three-quarters of a mile away and for those in seventh grade and up who live more than one mile away. That measurement is from the curb in front of the home to the nearest entrance of the school building. However with the reconfiguration, now parents have some children that can take the bus, while their other children have to walk or be brought to and from school.
The policy allows Florence Etienne’s first- grader, but not her third grader, to take the bus. However, Etienne said she herself has been the victim of assault in New Cassel and that it’s not safe for her daughter to be walking to school.
“I’m concerned for the safety of my daughter. I live 10 blocks away. I’m not going to let my 8-year-old walk to school by herself,” Etienne said.
Children who don’t take the bus either walk home (if they have a signed permission slip from their parents allowing them to do so) or have to wait in a designated area in the school to be picked up. But parents at the meeting described the pick-up process as tumultuous, taking at least 30 to 40 minutes. They also cited security concerns, saying that there weren’t proper checks in place to make sure children were going home with the authorized people.
“It’s a zoo, there’s no order,” said parent Rose Jean Louis who has a first-grader at Park Avenue. She said the process last year was much smoother and safer. “What scares me most is there’s no one to verify IDs. Anyone could just pick up any kid and walk out.”
However, Superintendent Dr. Mary Lagnado said there are procedures in place to make sure that walkers are signed out and sent home with only the approved individuals.
“We look for identification to make sure the people picking up the child is authorized to do so,” Lagnado said. “That’s where it gets time consuming because we have so many walkers. But we’ve put additional support staff, security aides and teacher’s assistants in place to relieve that so we can have additional locations for parent pick up and it can go quickly and smoothly.”
Park Avenue School has about 900 students (roughly the same as prior to the reconfiguration), with almost 450 walkers. Dryden and Drexel have about 600 students. Lagnado noted that the reconfiguration was never about transportation savings, rather, it was about supporting the social and emotional needs of children.
“There was no savings. This was done for the social and emotional growth of students. They’ll have the same teachers, support staff and principal for grades one through five,” Lagnado said. “It will improve the social and emotional and in turn the academics.”
At the meeting, approximately 60 parents signed a petition to change the transportation policy, which they plan to present to the board. The discussion is expected to continue at next week’s action meeting on Sept. 17 at the Westbury High School Little Theatre at 7:30 p.m.
“We will look at the comments made tonight and see what other adjustments we can make to our dismissal,” Lagnado said. “This is an adjustment and you expect this the first few weeks of school. We feel positive about this change and we are sure we can resolve any issues and concerns the parents have.”