By Denise Dick
Irene Fedak’s son has to rely on a family friend to transport him from Cardinal Mooney High School to his West Side home.
The city school district has denied transportation to 28 Mooney students including Nicholas Fedak, a freshman.
Last year, he attended St. Joseph Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Austintown with transportation provided by the city district.
“Right now, my husband takes him in the morning,” Fedak said. “He gets home from work at midnight, and he has to get up really early to take Nicholas to school. I commute to Akron and I start work at 7 a.m., so my husband takes the responsibility of getting the kids to school. It’s hard. Imagine coming home at midnight and getting up early.”
But the bigger problem is getting Nicholas home after school.
Fedak’s husband starts work at 3 p.m., the same time Mooney is dismissed. She doesn’t get out of work until 3:30 p.m. and then has an hour commute. The school closes at 4 p.m. unless students are involved with extracurricular activities.
Since the start of the school year, a woman whom the Fedak family met years ago while Nicholas was a student at the now-closed Byzantine Central Catholic school has been taking Nicholas home every day. Her grandson also attends Mooney.
“If it wasn’t for this child’s grandmother, I don’t know what I’d be doing,” Fedak said. “He’d probably have to leave the school. I don’t want to do that. My husband went to Mooney.”
The family’s home is more than five miles from Mooney, she said.
In late September, Harry Evans, chief of operations for the city schools, sent a letter to John Young, Mooney principal, saying that the district is unable to honor Young’s request to provide transportation for Mooney students. The letter cited insufficient school buses and bus drivers as the reason.
But Randy Rair, assistant superintendent for the Office of Catholic Schools of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, said Mooney parents question the insufficiency of buses and bus drivers because of Youngstown’s dwindling enrollment in recent years.
“Under state law, public school districts have to provide transportation to parochial school students,” Rair said.
A public district can declare such transportation impractical if certain conditions are met.
Generally, students are eligible for transportation services on a “same basis” principle of public school students in terms of a district’s policy.
The private school also must be within a 30-minute distance by direct travel from the public school building that the student would be assigned.
“For busing purposes, nonpublic school kids have to be treated the same as public,” the assistant superintendent said.
If the conditions are met, Rair said the public school board must pass a resolution declaring the transportation impractical and offer payment to the parents. Parents must be notified individually so they have the opportunity to appeal that decision to the state, he said.
One letter sent to the Mooney principal didn’t follow that, Rair said.
The diocese has asked its attorney to contact the city school district about the transportation issues.
Tonight’s city school board meeting agenda includes a resolution to declare transportation impractical for five Mooney students who live more than four miles from their school, Karen Ingraham, school district communication director, said in an email.
She declined to identify the students until the resolution is approved by the school board.
Youngstown schools provides transportation for high school students who live more than four miles from their school.
The resolution will offer payment in lieu of transportation to those five students.
Ingraham’s email says there are four main primary considerations for transportation of high school students. One is the more-than-four-miles rule. Secondly, the city schools don’t provide transportation to students who open enroll into other schools. A lack of buses and/or drivers may make transportation impractical, and excessive costs due to special routings to pick up one or a few students also is a consideration, she said.
Chaya Bray’s 15-year-old son, Keshawn, is a sophomore at Mooney. Like this year, last year the school district wouldn’t transport Keshawn from his East Side home to Mooney and back.
“I pay for him to ride the WRTA bus the whole school year,” Bray said. “It $2 per day.”
That means Keshawn has to get up about 5 a.m. to catch the bus about 6. School doesn’t start until 8. His trip home takes about an hour, too, she said.
Bray said she’s encountered problems with transportation for her daughter who attends Southside Academy as well.
Bray is a Youngstown State University student, and her first class is at 9 a.m., making it difficult for her to transport her children to school.
“It’s very frustrating,” Bray said.