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Danger In The Walk To School?

Kim Dobres received a letter this summer from the Massapequa School District. When she opened it up and read it, she was quite alarmed. The letter informed her that her son, who would be beginning eighth grade at Berner Junior High School in August, was not eligible to be taken to and from school by district transportation. As a seventh grade student, Dobres says her son was originally denied district transportation, but upon speaking with someone at the district’s transportation office, she was told that her house was “pegged wrong,” and her son rode the bus throughout seventh grade. However, Dobres says that despite her multiple calls to district officials, she has not been able to get her son district transportation this year. Therefore, her son goes to school by walking a path between Unqua School and Berner Junior High that is directly behind a busy shopping center up where Staples, Dollar Tree and Waldbaum’s are located.

“I am not comfortable with that pass-through,” Dobres wrote in an email to the board of education.

Dobres says that she has numerous concerns about that path. First, it is not paved, so when there is precipitation, her son must traverse muddy ground that ruins his clothes. Dobres also says that the path is frequently littered with debris.

Secondly, Dobres says that the gates at the entrance to the path by both Unqua and Berner are not always unlocked in time for her son to pass through the path. In the email that she sent to the district, she wrote that her oldest daughter would encounter locked gates when she traversed the path, and had to climb over a fence, in order to get to school.

In addition, Dobres told that board at its last meeting, that she is concerned for her son’s safety, and the safety of others who travel the path. Although there are gates that can be locked at the entrance to both Berner and Unqua, the path goes behind the shopping center and there is an opening to the path that is accessible from the parking area adjacent to Staples. Dobres says she has been at the path at dismissal time and found it unguarded.

“Safety is the concern,” she told the board.

In response, Deputy Superintendent Alan Adcock, said that there is a security guard at the entrance to the path at Unqua, and one or two more security guards at the entrance to Berner.

According to the letter that Dobres received from the district, the transportation policy is to provide busing for students in grades 1-9 who live at least one mile from the school. The distance requirement is at least one half of a mile for kindergarten students and at least one and a half miles for students in grades 10-12. In the letter that Dobres received from the district, it says that using a calibrated odometer, it was determined that the distance between the furthest property line of Dobres’ home and a point adjacent to the flagpole in the street of Berner Middle School does not fall within these limits, and therefore her son may not receive district transportation.

However, Dobres disputes this. She said that the district states that her home is .8 of a mile from the school. Yet, Dobres claims that this route is dangerous, as her son would have to walk along Sunrise Highway to Old Sunrise Highway and then to Carman Mill Road. In the email she sent to the district, she wrote that this would require her son to walk in the street, as portions of Carman Mill Road do not have sidewalks. Conversely, if her son were to travel what Dobres believes is a safer route, by going to Merrick Road and then to Carman Mill Neck Road and approaching Berner from the south, the distance is 1.4 miles, which exceeds the district’s one mile limit.

Adcock maintains that since Dobres’ property is within one mile of Berner, her son may not receive district transportation. Board President Maryanne Fisher said that the board would have Adcock look into her concerns regarding the path between Unqua and Berner.