Jeanne Sager | Democrat
SAMANTHA SPANGLER, WHO is about to start seventh grade at Sullivan West High School, stands at the edge of Route 52 near her home in Lake Huntington.
Rules say she's got to walk to school
By Jeanne Sager
LAKE HUNTINGTON Samantha Spangler is clear across the road, standing safe on the shoulder, but she cringes.
She feels it before she sees it, a dump truck rumbling down the road toward Lake Huntington.
It doesn’t take a cop with a radar gun to tell the truck is exceeding the 35-mph speed limit, and Spangler is standing at the crest of a hill that drops into a near 90 degree turn.
The truck has to slow down or else.
The truck, the turn, the speed, they’re the reasons 12-year-old Spangler’s mom, Donna Grisafe, is uneasy about the start of school tomorrow.
Because tomorrow, Spangler will be making the walk down that road, truck traffic and all, to get home from school.
The family lives 6/10 of a mile from the Sullivan West High School, where Spangler is slated to begin the seventh grade.
Sullivan West regulations offer transportation only to high school students who live more than a mile from the building, or more than a half mile from the elementary building for younger kids.
That’s well within New York State Education Department (NYSED) law which allows for districts to forego busing as far as three miles from the school building for kids in grades 9 through 12, two miles for anyone younger.
The law puts the onus on keeping safe kids who live closer to the buildings on the parents. Decisions on dozens of cases posted on the NYSED Website can be summed up easily if you don’t like it, drive your kid to school.
But Donna Grisafe can’t drive Samantha to school.
Afflicted with a seizure disorder, Grisafe can’t drive her daughter to a friend’s house or out to get gasoline either.
Well aware of her limitations, Grisafe said she called the school district on June 2, just as Spangler’s days at the elementary school in Jeffersonville were winding down.
“My neighbor, Lisa, was fighting with the school over this all last year,” Grisafe explained. “She’s moved, but she was taking her lunch break at 2:30, driving all the way back here from Eldred, picking up her daughter, driving her home and then going back to work.
“I apologized to her and said you know what, I should have been fighting with you on this.”
Now Lisa’s gone and it’s Grisafe’s fight alone. But her medical condition puts an urgent twist on the situation.
Spangler will have to walk through a 55 mph zone before she hits a reduced limit sign. She’ll have to walk on roadways where the paved portion of the shoulder cannot accommodate even her two child-sized feet in her scuffed-up Etnies.
“It’s just not safe,” Grisafe said. “You should see the kids, the buses, flying by here in the morning and in the afternoons. Even when she was getting on and off the bus, you wouldn’t believe it.”
A call to the school district revealed they are working on the process. The board of education voted in August to authorize a “child safety zone study,” essentially a checklist of hazards developed by NYSED.
Hazards from speeding cars to narrow shoulders are rated on a point system, and enough points can label a child’s walk to school part of a child safety zone. That label enables the school district to legally forego its own rules, making exceptions for a student without creating a case where “if we do it for one, we have to do it for everyone.”
In fact, Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Hilton took Grisafe’s complaints so seriously, he requested the board approve a study that extends one mile in both directions from the high school.
If the path along Route 52 is too dangerous for Spangler, it would stand to reason it’s too dangerous for her neighbors, he explained.
Still, there’s no guarantee that the study results will end in a bus ride for Spangler.
And there will not be a bus stopping at the family’s house 6/10 of a mile from the building tomorrow morning or anytime soon.
“We will get this study done as quickly as we can,” Hilton said. “Typically they take a week or so, sometimes two weeks.”
Making matters worse the study cannot be completed until school starts, when buses, school staff and students are once again motoring past the Grisafe house.
“It’s unrealistic for people to expect it to be done over the summer,” Hilton said.
Once the study is done, the board of education would still have to vote on a change in the rules if the study calls for it.
The board will meet on Sept. 11, but if the study isn’t done, it won’t meet again until October 2.
Grisafe has found someone who can likely drive Spangler to school for her until the board makes its decision. But mid-afternoon, when everyone she knows is at work, she’s stuck.
That’s why she started working on this in June, she said, so the family wouldn’t be waiting in September.
Hilton admitted he doesn’t know what happened in the chain of command back in June, but he said even talking to him then couldn’t have helped the situation.
“You can’t complain about bus routes until they’ve been made,” he said.
Sullivan West doesn’t draw up its new bus routes until the summer after school is closed and buses stop running, too late to do a child safety study.
So Grisafe can only wait and watch her daughter jump toward the ditch when a truck barrels past their house.