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Syracuse City School District students shouldn’t walk more than 1 mile to school, Common Council votes

Courtesy of Marianne Barthelemy

The current New York state law only allows buses to be sent to students who live more than 1.5 miles away from school.

UPDATED: Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m.

Dynah Umutoni, a 16-year-old attending Henninger High School, said she has encountered dangerous situations on her 36-minute walk to school, including being stalked.

The same week she was stalked, she said, three community members were shot near her walking route.

“We’re not safe at all,” she said about her walk to school.

But Umutoni has no choice other than to walk to school. The current state law only allows buses to be sent to students who live more than 1.5 miles away from school, and Umutoni lives 1.3 miles from her school based on Google Maps, forcing her to walk, she said.

The Syracuse Common Council, though, is hoping to change the law to allow students like Umutoni to ride the bus. The council on Monday unanimously voted to approve a resolution to send a letter to the New York state government urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state legislature and state Department of Education to consider funding a new bus pilot program in Syracuse.

The program would allow the Syracuse City School District to bus students who live more than one mile away from their respective school buildings to school.

During the Dec. 5 council meeting, Councilor Susan Boyle, chair of the education and human development committee, said students are being placed in dangerous situations during their daily walks to and from school. The state government should consider gun violence and high rates of poverty affecting school transportation in Syracuse, she said.

Councilors Joe Nicoletti and Nader Maroun both publicly thanked Boyle for pushing the resolution through.

Umutoni, who moved to the United States as a Congolese refugee from Kenya just two years ago, has been working with Joyce Suslovic, a teacher at Henninger High School, and a group of classmates known as the “2 Miles is Too Far” group to advocate for universal bussing in the district. They have been collaborating since last November, when the cut-off for bussing was two miles.

Through a series of school board meetings, correspondence with city officials, event planning and media attention, the group was able to convince the SCSD Board of Education to lower the limit from two miles to 1.5 this past February, Suslovic said.

Their advocacy also pushed Interim Superintendent Jaime Alicea to create a Transportation Task Force to further tackle the issue. Suslovic and a few of her students are part of the task force. Umutoni is not one of those students.

Suslovic said she is delighted to see their hard work pay off.

“We’ve got to keep our kids safe,” she said. “So I’m thrilled that the city council has taken it on. We’ve got a lot of great people on board.”

Yet Suslovic, her students and Councilor Maroun have separately said there is still work to be done.

Maroun raised concerns about pre-K students at the meeting, saying he is unsure if the current resolution would include them. Suslovic also said there is enough money in the state budget to cover the transportation costs, so she will continue advocating for her students, she said.

“It’s going to take time,” Suslovic said. “It’s going to be an uphill fight but the more assistance you get, the better. It’s such a great victory for us so we’re going to keep going and see what happens from there.”

Umutoni said she is skeptical, but hopes the state legislature will pass it through.

“Winter is here, so please just accept it,” she said. “I wish they would come walk with us and then they could see how far it actually is.”

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, the victims who were shot were misstated. The same week Dynah Umutoni was stalked, three community members were shot near her walking route. The Daily Orange regrets this error.

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