School busing regulations: more common sense, please

I left Donna Grisafe’s house feeling defeated. Hers wasn’t the first “school vs. parent” story we’ve heard, and I know it won’t be the last.
It wasn’t even the first busing issue we’ve covered and certainly not the first for Sullivan West. But knowing the school district isn’t breaking the law did nothing to dissuade me from writing the front page article that appeared in last Tuesday’s Democrat.
The fact is, the law is ridiculous, outdated and unsafe.
According to the great State of New York’s Department of Education, kids in kindergarten through eighth grade can be asked to walk to school if they live less than 2 miles from the building. For kids in grades nine through 12, the minimum jumps by a mile to 3.
I’ve got to ask, when was the last time you saw a 5-year-old out on the street and wondered “Where are that child’s parents? Don’t they know there are cars, trucks… pedophiles out here? How irresponsible can they be!”
Repeat that – but replace “parents” with “school district.”
Does that change anything for you? Does it suddenly make an open street a safe place for a child?
According to the State of New York, it does. Because Albany has taken the responsibility (and liability) off the districts’ hands, placing blame for any harm that comes to a child on the way to school on the shoulders of their parents.
Parents who they expect to leave the job that puts food in their children’s bellies at 2:30 in the afternoon to rush to a school building, pick their child up, drop them with a responsible adult and then rush back to work.
Parents who they expect to walk with their children a good 45 minutes one way (remember, we are talking 3 miles for older kids, kids dragging heavy book bags, science experiments and the like) then walk 45 minutes home and still make it to work on time.
Grisafe’s case is even harder to fathom – a seizure disorder means she can’t, by law, drive her daughter to and from school. So she’s been relying on family since school opened last week to ensure her daughter doesn’t walk 6/10 of a mile, at times in a 55 mph zone with no sidewalk, at other times around a dangerous curve known for accidents. Known, in fact, for so many accidents that parents worried about buses making the turn when the high school was sited in Lake Huntington.
Before writing my article for the Democrat, I walked the path with Donna Grisafe, her 12-year-old daughter and my own daughter. Clutching my 3-year-old’s hand as an excavator’s dump truck rumbled past was enough to convince me, this isn’t just a story for the paper. It’s evidence that the state education department needs to spend a day outside of Albany and make some rule changes.
Grisafe’s medical condition might make her story unique, but her daughter’s no more at risk than other kids living within 3 miles of a school building. She’s no less at risk either.
Although I haven’t been able to pin a date on the drafting of the education department rules, I can only imagine they were written in the days when our parents walked to school, uphill, 20 miles both ways.
Guess what? That was then. This is now.
Cars are faster. There are more of them. Speed limit signs can be posted wherever the department of transportation puts them – it doesn’t mean people will heed the warning.
The same goes for “children at play” and “school crossing zone” signs. And what of wintery days, when even the most cautious driver has found themselves heading ditchward, their car a multi-ton missile that could land on a teenager walking to school.
And what about people? Drilling stranger danger into a child’s head is worth a hill of beans when a child molester gets them alone on a rural road and pounces.
Maybe, but if you’re the kind of parent who’s been pushing their 5, 12 or even 15-year-old out the door onto a busy road for a walk to school, I really can’t say you’re a “better” parent than I.
You’re just lucky.

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