Students, their parents and teachers at Henniger High School have launched a campaign to persuade the city school board to allow school buses to pick up students living close to schools—as a safety measure. The group turned up to lobby the Syracuse City School Board on Nov. 4, complaining that a rule that bars bus drivers from picking up students less than two miles from their homes means many students must face long, dark walks home, braving snow piles, icy sidewalks and even muggers.
Dubbing their campaign “2 Miles Is 2 Far,” community members argued these situations make it difficult for students to do their best in school, achieve, and pass Regents Examinations to graduate.
“How many of you could walk over four miles under these conditions and still function to the best of your abilities?” asked Joyce Suslovic, a teacher at Henninger.
“During the wintertime I sometimes don’t come to school because it’s too cold,” said Dieu Mukiye, a Henninger student. Mukiye lives 1.9 miles away from school. “I’m not just speaking for myself. I represent the students,” he added.
Tracy Grimm, a board member of the Greater Strathmore Neighborhood Association, said her son was denied busing because they live 1.8 miles away. At the meeting, she said she asked a district official if she would feel comfortable walking the route, and the official said no.
“Well then why are you making our kids do this?” she recalled asking the official. “Neighborhoods can go from good to bad within a matter of blocks.”
Amy Banks, a teacher at Henninger, brought up how students often walk through “dangerous” neighborhoods while commuting.
“Last week, a 15-year-old student was attacked on his way home,” Banks said. “Grown men attacked him and sliced off part of his ear.” She also explained that refugee students were especially at risk for violence. “A refugee student was also followed by five boys and beaten,” she said.
Amir Junuzovic, a teacher at Henninger, said he had heard many “horrible” stories from students and parents.
“It’s very hard to listen to the stories,” Junuzovic said. “It’s tough, but what I can do is talk to people here and try and change things.”
Superintendent Sharon L. Contreras said the school district has funded the busing of students living outside a 1.5 mile radius of schools twice.
“Centro just hasn’t given us the buses,” Contreras explained.
Given the conditions for Centro, the district may have difficulty procuring the necessary buses. According to a multiyear highway bill passed by the House of Representatives, New York State will lose $820 million in public transportation aid over the next six years. Centro would lose approximately $12 million, or $2 million per year.
Syracuse has been chronically underfunded for decades, said Kevin Ahern, president of the Syracuse Teachers Association. He urged for a push for increased funding for the district, saying it was a “drop in the bucket” for the state budget.
Contreras brought up what she said were two main issues with transporting students. Legislation about allowable expenses and implementing a fair spending formula need to be changed, she said. It would cost $4 million to bring the transportation radius down to one mile.
Contreras also clarified that the district does not designate “safe” and “unsafe” areas, so this could not be factored into whether students are bused or not.
“We agree that two miles is too far; 1.5 miles is too far,” Contreras declared. To change the system however, she said, “We need some help from others outside the room.”