A law firm representing the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District, Ingerman Smith LLP, is reviewing the language of its bus transportation policy after one parent claimed his daughter’s civil rights are being violated because she is being refused bus transportation to and from school.
Joseph Dunne, who lives on Nassau Point Road in Cutchogue, claims the district is “discriminating” against his 10-year-old daughter, Morgan, because it will not provide her with bus transportation between Cutchogue East Elementary School and his home certain days of the week, as well as with transport between the school and her mother’s home in Laurel on different days.
Mr. Dunne is asking that the district pick Morgan up in Cutchogue on Tuesday, Wednesday and every other Monday. He’s also asking that she be dropped off at his home every Monday, every other Friday and certain Tuesdays.
Mr. Dunne said he and Morgan’s mother, Karen Heck, are separated and were never married.
He expressed his concerns to school board members and administration at an Oct. 14 Board of Education meeting and has continued to communicate with the district via email.
The district’s elementary school transportation policy states that “students will be transported from one designated location in the AM and to one designated location in the PM … AM-PM locations may be different, but must be the same every day.”
The policy then states: “In the rare and unusual situation that an elementary student needs an alternative drop-off location, a written note from a parent/guardian and signed by an elementary administrator is needed.”
Superintendent Jill Gierasch said earlier this month that under the current policy, parents can have two different drop-off and pick-up spots: one in the morning, one in the afternoon. However, she said, the district would need to revise that policy to meet Mr. Dunne’s desires.
Ingerman Smith has already reviewed the bus transportation policy to ensure it’s in line with legal standards.
Ms. Gierasch took Mr. Dunne’s request to the policy committee’s Nov. 22 meeting for review. Committee members and district officials discussed the pros and cons of making adjustments, particularly around making two stops on an afternoon bus run.
“Essentially that’s where the issue is,” she said. “We need to ensure there are seats on the bus in the morning. It’s the afternoon [bus] run that we have to look at with a closer lens … and make sure a child is going home and they’re getting off at the right stop.”
She said the attorneys will review the policy in light of suggestions that emerged from the meeting, formalize the language and bring it before the committee again.
Should the committee elect to change the policy, she said, there would be a reading of the revised version at the December board meeting. Members could vote on the change as early as January 2020, she said.
“All policies are not changed quickly,” she said. “It has to be read publicly so people can weigh in.”
A change to the policy, she added, would not take effect until September 2020, with the beginning of the next school year.
The district also needs to ensure that all students leaving the school are being placed on the right bus, she said, and drivers would have to be notified about who is picking each child up.
Mr. Dunne said he moved from Southold to Cutchogue to make school transportation easier for his daughter. Since he owns Fresco Pizza and Deli in Southampton, he knew it would be difficult to drive her to and from school.
In early September, he said, he approached the district and requested busing for his daughter from his home to Cutchogue East. While he said he was initially told that would be a “safety issue,” he was later informed she might be able to receive busing to and from Cutchogue if the Board of Education modified the student transportation policy, as Ms. Gierasch said.
However, Mr. Dunne is demanding that the district immediately alter the policy and provide transportation for his daughter.
“Every kid deserves bus service in this school,” he said. “She lives three miles from the school — she can’t walk there.”
The district’s current transportation policy is “for the safety of all the kids,” Ms. Gierasch said.
“When kids are going on different buses, we need to ensure that that kid gets on the right bus,” Ms. Gierasch said. “It’s not just about his child; it’s about every child.”
Photo caption: Joseph Dunne says the Mattituck-Cutchogue School District should provide bus service for his daughter, Morgan, at his home as well as her mother’s home on different days. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)