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Syracuse looking at walking distance for students

Jason Devaun

The Syracuse City School District is revisiting the debate over how far children should have to walk to school. A group representing parents, teachers and students contend that two miles is too far to walk.

Kama Ndbay is a junior at Henninger High School. He’s an honor student and his first class of the day is Advanced Placement English.

“In all my other classes I have a 90 or above," Ndbay said. "But in that class I have an 83.”

He said it’s no coincidence that his worst grades are in that first class of the day. He has to walk 1.9 miles to school every morning and between bad weather and the time it takes to get through security, he’s often late.

“So by the time I get to the class, I’m already late, and I’ve missed half the lesson," Nbday said.

Ndbay is of the estimated 1,000  students who lives between 1.5 and 2 miles from their school,  which means they don’t have school supported transportation. District policy offers a free bus pass for Centro to high school students who live more than 2 miles from school. But, for those who just miss the cut, like  Yvonne Mukandanga -- another Henninger junior -- there are sometimes scary treks in the early morning or late afternoon hours.

"I walk by myself and I walk under a bridge and there are homeless people, so I’m actually scared sometimes," Mukandanga said. "But I need my education, so I have to put my fears aside.”

These stories have spawned a group of community members who say 2 miles is too far for these kids to walk. It’s an issue that’s come up before. The problem is money and how much it would cost a cash strapped district to offer bus passes or contract out with the school bus company that provides transportation for younger kids. Beyond that, CENTRO is dependent on sate and federal funding might not have enough buses available.

School social worker and Syracuse Teachers Association member Bill Scott, though, is hopeful, noting that other communities in the same fix have shortened the mile limit.

"They were able to sit down and figure out a way to make it happen for them and we would like to encourage our local politicians to do the same," Scott said.

School board member Dave Cecile, a former principal in the district, said it comes down to priorities.

"But, we could find money as a city and a school district if we feel it’s that important," Cecile said. "And, I do feel it’s that important.”

Advocates want the 2-mile rule shorted by a half a mile. The district will continue to discuss the issue.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.