by Susan Mikula Campbell
For a while it looked like Leela Wood wouldn't make it to her first day of school at West Street Elementary School, but Wednesday her great-grandfather stepped in to help.
Michael Zimmerman and his fiancée, Emily, discovered that while the Niagara-Wheatfield school bus would stop at their home, it wouldn't stop at the Bunny Bunch day care center Leela attends while they go to work.
"Just the fact that we have to make an elderly man do this makes me mad," said Zimmerman, who has sought an exception to the school bus zone. "My fiancée talked to the superintendent and was left in tears Friday."
Zimmerman explained that the Bunny Bunch opens at 6 a.m., which fits their work needs, while other day care centers in their attendance zone where busing is provided open at 6:30 a.m. Leela's day care center also is closer to the school than their home.
Dr. Lynn Fusco, Niagara-Wheatfield's new superintendent, said she couldn't specifically discuss Leela's case due to privacy rules. She explained that transportation for students is based on each elementary school's attendance zone. Busing will be provided to alternate locations within the attendance zone only.
The policy was established "so we don't have buses going all over the place," she said noting that creating attendance zones is one of the ways the school district controls its costs for transportation.
She said the district has been trying to be as helpful as they can and come up with alternatives. Their goal is not to frustrate people.
"It is challenging. I understand that," she said. "Once you start making exceptions, then you don't have a policy."
School mornings are stressful for the Zimmerman family. Currently, the couple drives Leela to her great-grandfather's house and he later drives her to school. They drop their younger child at day care, then Emily is dropped off at work and Zimmerman goes to his own job.
"Everyone keeps citing policy to me over and over. It's not a law! Make an exception," Zimmerman argued. "If your child goes to a registered day care in district lines they will be picked up. If that opens floodgates of parents needing help also, then the policy is wrong, and you need to listen to them and change it. If you make this exception and nobody else steps forward then what exactly is the problem?"
Pictured, Leela Wood is shown with her new school supplies.