The city announced earlier this month that it plans to reduce school bus capacity to adhere to social distancing guidelines, meaning more children will likely be driven to school. ‘Putting more cars on the road will make the streets more dangerous, especially for children who cannot be driven to school by their parents.’
New York City parents learned earlier this month that the Department of Education will reduce school bus capacity to just 25 percent in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines. This means many of the 150,000 children who rely on the bus in a normal year won’t have that option this school year, as things stand. So what is Mayor de Blasio doing about it?
With just three weeks until school is back in session, we still don’t know. When he was asked by a reporter how these children should go about getting to school, the mayor said more parents will likely drive their children— something which could lead to more crashes—and that “this is a choice we have to make.”
This answer is frankly unacceptable.
Like most New Yorkers, I am concerned about preventing the further spread of COVID-19, but we shouldn’t be asked to trade one danger for another. Putting more cars on the road will make the streets more dangerous, especially for children who cannot be driven to school by their parents.
I know about such dangers because one year ago my son Enzo Farachio was killed by a driver while he was on his way home from school. He was waiting at a bus stop on Ocean Avenue in Midwood, Brooklyn when a driver lost control of his SUV and jumped the curb.
No one should ever have to experience the pain and heartbreak my family and I have been going through. But I fear another crash like the one that took my son is inevitable if the mayor doesn’t come up with a plan to give children a safe route to their schools.
Enzo started sixth grade last September and had just begun going to school on his own. His 11th birthday was coming up, but because of one driver’s reckless actions, we went from planning a trip to Six Flags — Enzo loved to ride rollercoasters — to picking out clothes and a casket for his funeral. Enzo did everything right, but the driver, who had been caught speeding in school zones four times before he killed my son, clearly did not.
Drivers have already caused more than 63,000 crashes in 2020, and have claimed the lives of at least 127 people. If “get a car and drive your kids to school” is the extent of the mayor’s solution to reduced school bus capacity, these numbers will surely spike come September.
What is most confusing about Mayor de Blasio’s failure to plan for safely transporting students to and from school is that it is unfair — especially to low-income families. Most households in the city do not own a car, and those that do earn much more money on average. New York is supposed to be the fairest big city in America. It can’t be fair when parents with the means to drive their children endanger the lives of children who have no choice but to get to school on their own.
Mayor de Blasio has an obligation to make sure streets near schools are safe. We’ve seen how speed cameras slow drivers and reduce crashes near schools, and he deserves credit for committing to this life-saving technology. But what else can he do in the next few weeks to ensure a safe passage for our kids? Hiring more crossing guards? Closing some streets to traffic near schools during arrival and dismissal to make safe routes for children walking to school?
The families of New York City’s 1.1 million schoolchildren have many reasons to be worried about the upcoming school year. Not knowing how, or even if, their children will be able to get to school safely puts parents in an even more difficult position. The mayor says “this is a choice we have to make.” Fine. Then let the mayor choose: will he choose to do everything in his power to ensure our families are safe from COVID-19 as well as from traffic violence, or will he choose to do nothing?
I simply can’t bear to watch another family stricken with the same grief I experience just because the mayor didn’t even try. Time is running out. Mayor de Blasio, please, take action now to ensure all children have a safe way of getting to and from school. Your inaction has brought uncertainty for families across the five boroughs. Let us hope it doesn’t bring tragedy, too.
Mary Majao is a parent, special education teacher and a member of Families for Safe Streets who lives in Midwood, Brooklyn.