Published October 03, 2009
A New York mother is fighting back against her school district after administrators and officials told her she and her son didn't have the right to bike to school together — and that his safety, even beyond school walls, was out of her hands.
Janette Kaddo Marino said their 3-mile rides to and from school in Saratoga Springs have been met with stiff opposition from officials and even a state trooper who claimed it was unsafe — and illegal — for her 12-year-old son Adam to travel on his own pair of wheels.
Undeterred, she and her seventh-grader have continued cruising to Maple Avenue Middle School this fall in defiance of a 15-year-old school regulation that effectively forces kids to take the bus or hitch a ride in a family car.
"They really don't have the right to tell me how to get my kids to school," Marino told FOXNews.com, emphasizing that she always accompanies her son and is "very safety-oriented."
"This just doesn't seem right to me that the school district would have that kind of authority over a parent," she said — noting that students have been asked not to walk to school. "We're not hurting anyone — we're just riding our bikes."
Even though administrators have tried to stop the Marinos from biking, school officials say they don't actually have the right to bar parents or students from walking or biking to school, and that the policy itself has been widely misunderstood.
"The existing policy is worded in such a way that it may lead one to believe that we're prohibiting biking to school," said Saratoga Springs superintendent Janice White.
The one-sentence clause in the school board handbook looks clear enough:
"The riding of bicycles by elementary pupils to and from school is prohibited."
The superintendent said the policy was instituted in 1994, "well before my time here," and that the school officials are now working on a compromise and considering changes to the policy, which was designed to guarantee the safety and security of students who haven't yet reached high school.
It is not in place because of liability concerns, she said. Students at the high school level have always been permitted to bike to class, and bike racks are provided for them.
"It's strictly about the intention to keep children safe and not have children on particular roadways and areas that would be considered difficult to manage on a bicycle," White told FOXNews.com.
School officials say cars travel at up to 55 miles per hour on Rt. 9, which the Marinos take on afternoon rides home. Traffic patterns around Maple Avenue Middle School, which was built in 1994, led the board to adopt measures limiting routes of access.
But Marino says their path, which mostly hugs along "adventurous" back roads and Rt. 9's "beautiful, wide shoulders," is just fine for her son, who has twice biked the 300-mile route from Buffalo to Albany.
She said the initial concerns raised by school officials were misplaced, including their worries that her son might be snatched by a kidnapper.
"I don't know if the fear is warranted. It's almost like (they're suggesting) you stay inside, you get fat, you have heart problems when you get older because there may be a pedophile out there," she said.
Since Marino's concerns first went public in May, the school board has been considered her appeal but has been slowed by bureaucratic gridlock, organizing a transportation safety committee to advise a school board policy committee to advise the school board itself, which is expected to consider the bike policy at an Oct. 13 board meeting.
It's not known how school board members plan to vote—they referred all questions to the superintendent herself, who refused to divulge what the advisory committee had recommended. But White praised the "collaborative process" and "positive change of perspective" that the meetings have occasioned.
Many school districts, even in urban areas, have traditionally left it to parents to decide what's an appropriate means of transport for their children.
In Chesterfield County, Virginia, "there's no specific policy which would ban a student or riding a bicycle to school," said Shawn Smith, spokesman for the school district of nearly 60,000 students, one of the hundred largest in the nation. "Ultimately the decision is up to the parent.
Marino said she's enjoyed the support of staff and teachers at the school during her push to get the policy removed from the books in Saratoga Springs, but she's still happy to know that officials are concerned for her son's welfare.
"I respect their concern for our kids — I wouldn't want it any other way," she told FOXNews.com. "I think this is just an outdated irrelevant maybe non-legal policy that needs to be changed."