Marshall And PEP Appointee Call For Better Hazard Variances
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and her appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) Dmytro Fedkowskyj asked the panel to pass a resolution on February 9 calling on Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to create a committee that would provide a more transparent process for parents concerned about hazards and hardships related to bus routes to city schools.
The panel met at Brooklyn Technical H. S.
The proposed Safety Hazard Advisory Review Program (SHARP) would enable a committee, rather than the Department of Education (DOE) alone, to review applications for hazard variances.
Marshall and Fedkowskyj said that despite a large number of requests, a very small number are granted by the Education Department.
The resolution was prompted by complaints from parents and others in the wake of the Department of Education’s elimination of a number of yellow bus variances in the fall of 2010. Fedkowskyj and Marshall stated that the eliminations disproportionately affected students, particularly in Queens and Staten Island, the two boroughs with the reported greatest need for yellow buses.
According to DOE data, hazard variance applications submitted from January 2010 to September 2011, 1,028 variance applications were submitted, 468 of which came from schools in Queens. Only 42 of the 468 were approved.
In Woodside, many parents will reportedly not allow their children to walk to school along the route suggested by DOE following the elimination of bus service for some students at P.S. 229. The route includes a crossing near an off-ramp of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
“Student safety is of paramount importance, and right now we have no way of knowing how and why applications are turned down when the local community and school know better than anyone what neighborhood conditions can put their children in jeopardy,” said Marshall.
“Under the resolution, the SHARP committee would be the body that ensures the evaluation of hazard variance applications is open and transparent,” said Fedkowskyj. Adding, “I truly believe the committee would be the most effective way to bring transparency and family engagement to the process.”
The resolution calls for allowing the new committee to establish a standard operating procedure for reviewing hazard variance applications, while providing transparency to the variance process. In addition school district advisory committees would be established by June of 2012, based on a Community Educational Council (CEC) written request, whose primary function would be to establish clear and concise criteria from granting hazard variances.
The SHARP committee would consist of nine members; three from the Community Education Council, one district community superintendent, three DOE representatives from the Office of Pupil Transportation, one from the Office of Family and Community Engagement and one from the respective borough president’s office.