Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Last week, parents of approximately 20 students living in the West Englewood section of Teaneck received a letter informing them that their bus route to Bruriah High School of Elizabeth, New Jersey, would be cut for the 2018-2019 school year. The letter, signed by Melissa Simmons, a Teaneck Board of Education business administrator, noted that the cost of each student’s “subscription busing” was to be $100 per month for a total of $1000.00 for the year.

“We reviewed all student mileage calculations and determined your child lives more than 20 miles from the school and is therefore ineligible for transportation. It was decided at the time to continue your child(s) on the current route without any charge. However, for the 2018-19 school year we are unable to extend this courtesy,” the letter stated.     

Due to significant concern by parents who immediately contacted their council members and neighbors on social media, a special public meeting of the Teaneck Board of Education (BOE) was called for Thursday evening, August 2. Affected parents encouraged others who tend to send to private schools to attend and make comments.

State-established courtesy busing for Teaneck residents to private schools has long been a line item the Board of Education has attempted to cut. Most recently, in 2016, courtesy busing was proposed to be cut for elementary school students who lived less than 2 miles away from their schools. A loud public outcry resulted at that time, with the school board reversing that decision after a series of public meetings.    

On Thursday evening the board immediately went into executive session, which was closed to the public. As several concerned parents waited for the public portion of the meeting to commence, the air was filled with a mixture of anticipation and optimism. Some positive hopes could be heard; “I saw Councilman Mark Schwartz (who is also JLNJ’s co-publisher) post on Facebook that ‘busing will be reinstated and information will follow,’ so I’m feeling pretty calm,” said one parent. Others were still apprehensive, recalling past attempts of the BOE to cut courtesy busing. “The town has tried in the past to place bus stops as far as six blocks away from our house. Does it make any sense to suggest sending a second grader to walk by themselves so far when it could be dark or snowing?” the parent asked.

The New Jersey Department of Education’s statute regarding the Nonpublic School Transportation Procedure mandates that if students require busing to district schools, then there must be transportation provided for those who live “beyond 2½ miles for high school students and beyond 2 miles for elementary students... [and] attend a private school located in New Jersey 20 miles or less from their residence.”

Teaneck resident and long-time Buriah parent Mordy Rothberg explained what he suspected to be the logic behind the town’s attempt to cut the bus route. “If you look on a map, you’ll see that our [West Englewood] side of Teaneck is approximately 18.9 miles away from the [Bruriah] school. The board hopes to remeasure the distance according to its driving directions, which tallies up to about 24 miles, making us ineligible to receive state-legislated busing.”

Rothberg explained that West Englewood students of Bruriah have received busing in the past, and this attempt to cut busing is presumed to be due to a redefinition as to how the distance was measured. However, according to the Transportation FAQ on the New Jersey Department of Education’s website, measurement in regard to busing routes is defined by “the shortest distance along public roadways or walkways between the entrance to the student’s home and the nearest public entrance of the school building. This measurement is for eligibility purposes only and is not necessarily the travel path to or from school.” The new measurement was apparently based on a recalculation of travel paths.

When the public meeting began, the Teaneck school board’s newly named superintendent, Christopher Irving, sought to clear up the manner very quickly. “In light of the parental concerns, I had our staff take a closer look at the code [18A:39-1.6] and its interpretation,” he said. “The Teaneck Board of Education has decided to reverse its decision and will provide transportation for students who are located more than 20 miles from the Bruriah High School for the 2018-2019 school year.” In explanation of the reversal, Irving expounded, “The reversal is part of an attainment of the code that was not shared or previewed to the district at the time that the letter was written. The amendment grants transportation to students of that district if the procured route had already been established.”

BOE President Dr. Ardie Walser apologized on behalf of the board: “The board wishes to extend our apologies for the anxiety that this caused. We are glad to see the happy faces.”

“I am very pleased that when the concern was brought to the board and superintendent, they immediately reviewed the situation and determined that there was a misinterpretation, and based upon a review, reinstated it,” BOE trustee Howard Rose told The Jewish Link. “And they were very pleased to do it,” he added.

Superintendent Irving added the following: “From my perspective, every child who lives in Teaneck is our child and we have the responsibility to do right by them in every way, shape and form.”

With the conclusion of the meeting, the mood had changed. Parents left feeling grateful that their children’s busing had been reinstated. Elana Kaplan expressed relief and pleasure: “I was very pleased with the outcome of the meeting and that busing to Bruriah will be reinstated. We appreciate that the superintendent of the Teaneck schools and the Board of Education acknowledged that a mistake was made and that it will be rectified. We hope this ensures that busing for all Teaneck students within the mileage limit will continue.”

Shlomo Deutsch is a second year contributor to The Jewish Link and a sophomore at Yeshiva University. He lives in Teaneck.