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Decision No. 14,030

Appeal of SHERRY DI NAPOLI, on behalf of CHRISTIE DI NAPOLI, and SUSAN STONE, on behalf of SETH STONE, from action of the Board of Education of the Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District regarding transportation.

Decision No. 14,030

(November 23, 1998)

Thomas J. Abinanti, Esq., attorney for petitioner

Raymond G. Kuntz, P.C., attorney for respondent, Raymond G. Kuntz and Thomas Scapoli, Esqs., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioners appeal the denial by the Board of Education of the Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District ("respondent") of their request to change the transportation pick-up point for their children, and seek an order directing the re-location of that pick-up point. The appeal must be dismissed.

Petitioners reside in Stonington Heights, a small development of homes consisting of 13 houses built around two connected cul-de-sacs. Stonington Heights is connected to the main road, Carleton Avenue, by a .2 mile access road called Stonington Drive. Prior to 1991, the pick-up point for students living in Stonington Heights was at the corner of Stonington Drive and Carleton Avenue. In 1991 the parents of children in Stonington Heights requested that respondent designate a pick-up point on the end of Stonington Drive within the development, as a number of their children would be entering kindergarten. Respondent agreed to provide a pick-up point within the development for elementary school children (grades K-6) and transported these children by minibus. Students attending respondent's middle/high school continued to be picked up at the Carleton Avenue bus stop.

As a result of overcrowding at the elementary school, respondent built a new facility at the middle/high school and decided to re-locate sixth grade students from the elementary school to the middle/high school beginning with the 1997-98 school year. Since sixth graders in Stonington Heights would be attending school at the middle/high school location, respondent designated the Carleton Avenue bus stop as their pick-up point. Respondent continued to provide kindergarten through fifth graders with minibus service in the development.

Petitioner Di Napoli is the parent of two children, Christie and Michelle, who in the spring of 1997 attended fourth grade and second grade, respectively, at respondent's elementary school. Petitioner planned to send Christie to an out-of-district school in the fall of 1997. Petitioner Stone also has two children, Seth and Jamie, who in the spring of 1997 attended fifth and first grade, respectively, at respondent's elementary school. Seth was scheduled to attend sixth grade at the middle/high school location in the fall of 1997.

In the spring of 1996, petitioners first requested that respondent designate a pick-up point for the middle/high school destination in the Stonington Heights development. On January 13, 1997, petitioners appeared before respondent board and presented their request for school bus service to Stonington Heights. On February 2, 1997 petitioners submitted additional evidence to respondent in support of their claim that the Carleton Avenue stop was unsafe for their children, and that the Stonington Heights cul-de-sac could accommodate a 66-passenger school bus. On February 24, 1997, after considering this evidence, respondent passed a resolution denying petitioners’ request. This appeal ensued.

Petitioners claim that the Carleton Avenue stop is not suitable for children attending sixth grade or lower or for a large group of children of any age because of its location. Specifically, petitioners allege that Stonington Road, which the children must walk down to get to the pick-up point, is a narrow, winding road with no shoulder or sidewalks. In addition, petitioners allege that the bus stop on Carleton is at the end of a blind curve, with limited visibility coming from the opposite direction, and maintain that there is no place for a large group of students to safely wait for the bus. Furthermore, petitioners contend that the reason the minibus came to Stonington Heights in the first place was due to the fact that respondent agreed with petitioners that Carleton Avenue was unsafe for small children. Petitioners also allege that traffic on Carleton has increased.

Furthermore, petitioners maintain that the Stonington Heights bus stop is appropriate. Petitioners contend that the cul-de-sac can accommodate a 66-passenger bus. Additionally, all of the students at the Carleton stop live in Stonington Heights. Finally, petitioners allege that their request will not result in any additional costs or compromise the current bus schedule.

Respondent denies petitioners' claims and maintains that a board of education may exercise discretion in designating pick-up points. Respondent claims that it carefully considered all the evidence, and balanced considerations of pupil safety, convenience, routing efficiency and costs in reaching its decision.

The appeal must be dismissed. A board of education may exercise its discretion when designating pick-up points provided that the board uses care in exercising such discretion (Appeal of Warner, 37 Ed Dept Rep 469; Appeal of Heuser, 36 id. 368; Appeal of Krauciunas, 35 id. 107). In establishing a pick-up point, a board of education must consider and balance considerations of pupil safety and convenience, routing efficiency and costs (Appeal of Heuser, supra; Appeal of Krauciunas, supra). Moreover, where a student's home is on a dangerous road or at a remote location, the parents are not free from an obligation to assist the student in reaching the pick-up point (Appeal of Warner, supra; Appeal of Kaufman, 36 Ed Dept Rep 45). It is the responsibility of the parent, not the district, to see that the child safely reaches the pick-up point (Appeal of Rheaume-Wellenc, 37 Ed Dept Rep 83; Appeal of Warner, supra).

The record in this case is comprehensive. Petitioners and respondent presented very thorough written, photographic and video evidence. After carefully examining all of this evidence I conclude that respondent acted within its discretion in refusing to change the pick-up point to Stonington Heights. The record indicates that respondent investigated petitioners' concerns and based its decision on considerations of student safety, convenience, routing efficiency and costs.

Respondent first determined that the Carleton Avenue stop was not unsafe as claimed by petitioners. The street is 39 feet wide, has a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour, has good visibility and a grassy area where students can stand while waiting for the bus. Petitioners were able to uncover only one accident near the stop, which occurred when a driver swerved to avoid hitting an animal, and resulted in no serious injuries. The Carleton Avenue stop is fairly typical of many rural and suburban pick-up points which may require children to travel narrow roadways with no sidewalk or walkways. These characteristics are not in and of themselves a basis for deeming a pick-up point unsafe (Appeal of Marsh, 36 Ed Dept Rep 134; Appeal of Behan, 34 id. 368; Appeal of Jett, 33 id. 446).

Respondent also presented evidence that it would be unsafe to send a 66-passenger bus up to the cul-de-sacs of Stonington Heights. Both parties submitted videotapes of buses negotiating the cul-de-sacs. Petitioners’ buses and drivers were able to negotiate the turn without backing up, and respondent’s were not. Both parties appear to agree that backing up creates a safety hazard. What can be discerned from the respondent's video is that when there is an obstruction in the cul-de-sac the bus has to back up to clear the circle. The likelihood of petitioners being able to guarantee there would never be any obstruction in the cul-de-sacs, such as a bike, car, garbage can, or snow, is remote. In addition to creating a safety hazard, the extra time needed to maneuver in the cul-de-sacs would appear to compromise routing efficiency. Thus, on the record, it appears that respondent's determination that it would be more time consuming, and more dangerous to use a 66-passenger bus in Stonington Heights is reasonable.

Petitioners also argue that sixth graders are still elementary school students, even though they now attend the middle/high school location. Therefore, petitioners maintain that they should be picked up at Stonington Heights, not at Carleton Avenue. However, petitioners have failed to present any evidence that the Carleton Avenue stop is too dangerous for elementary school students. Respondent's policy allows elementary school students to walk up to a mile to a pick-up point, and the Carleton Avenue stop is only .2 mile from their homes. The minibuses are not available for sixth graders to use, as suggested by petitioners, as they are used on other runs at the time the sixth graders are transported. Thus, it would be necessary to purchase or lease additional buses to accommodate petitioners’ request, which would result in additional costs to the district.

While I am sympathetic to petitioners concerns about their children’s safety, there is no basis to overturn respondent’s decision. The courts have held that the safety of children between home and pick-up point is the responsibility of parents, not the school district’s (Pratt v. Robinson, 39 NY2d 554; Appeal of Heuser, supra). Therefore, there is no basis for me to substitute my judgement for that of respondent.