Editorial Board

Syracuse officials should not give up the fight for more busing until all students living 1 mile away from school are provided busing

Funding restrictions have made it difficult for Syracuse city officials to bus district students who live relatively near their schools, but city councilors and school board representatives must continue to advocate for students who are forced to walk to school through dangerous areas and cold weather.

Students who live closer than 1.5 miles from their school are required to walk, as New York state law does not require school districts to bus students living closer than that. But 1.5 miles is still too far for children from kindergarten to 12th grade to walk in a city that boasts extreme numbers for cold weather, crime and poverty.

Busing advocates support making an exception to state law for Syracuse and diminishing the required distance to 1 mile, and many Common Council and Syracuse City School District officials back that goal. The problem lies in funding those buses, since that much of that funding would be required from the state.

Despite these obstacles, the Common Council unanimously voted in December to ask the state to fund a pilot program that would bus K-12 students living between one and 1.5 miles from school. Councilor Susan Boyle said she is optimistic the district will receive money to bus K-8 students, but said getting funding to bus high school students may be more difficult.

While busing younger children should absolutely be a priority over transporting older and more capable students, it’s important that if the district does get funding to bus K-8 students that officials do not settle and continue to advocate for the well-being of high school students.

Being able to get to school easily is a basic educational need. And while walking more than 1 mile to school may not seem like a big problem in other districts, it’s a daunting reality in Syracuse. Students may be deterred from walking to school due to safety concerns, unshoveled sidewalks and bitterly cold weather. When students miss school, they fall behind and don’t get the opportunity to maximize their educational experience. And when students make it to school, they shouldn’t be spending their class periods wondering if they’ll make it home safely.

It’s clear progress has been made on the busing front: Before last December, Syracuse didn’t provide busing to students who lived less than 2 miles away from their school, but student protests persuaded officials to decrease the distance.

Now, city and district officials still have the chance to stand for what’s right. Even if funding restrictions weaken the likelihood of busing high school students living more than 1 mile away from school, the fight isn’t over. Moving ahead, city officials cannot lose sight of the fact that even if the pilot program approved to bus K-8 students gains financial traction, there is still work to be done to ensure education is accessible to all students in Syracuse.

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