Robert Toczycki does not want his 12-year-old son to become another statistic. After months of battling the local school district over an unsafe bus stop, Toczycki filed a lawsuit in Cook County District Court Feb. 18 seeking reimbursement for five years’ worth of transportation expenses.
But, more important than the $2,640 requested in the suit, Toczycki said, is that he and his wife are seeking an injunction that would provide a safe bus stop location for their son in accordance with Illinois law. They have been driving their son to school since fall because they said they fear for his safety, not only at his bus stop but also on the hazardous route there.
The private school their son attends, Saint James Elementary School, is located within the boundaries of Arlington Heights (Ill.) School District 25 in an affluent suburb of Chicago. Yet the family lives within the boundaries of neighboring District 21, which must foot the cost of bus service for Saint James because it has a transportation agreement with District 25. The Toczycki boy is one of 10 Saint James students to ride on the route.
Currently, District 25 transports a total of 34 private school students, along with 1,388 of its own students, according to Laura Comastro, transportation manager.
Toczycki said he has attended several school board meetings to request that his son’s bus stop be moved to a safer location closer to home. To reach the current bus stop, the middle school student must cross a five-lane highway with no crossing guard and walk down several narrow roads without shoulders or sidewalks. Toczycki pointed out that these roads become even more hazardous when snow piles up in the winter (as shown in the photo at left).
Frustrated by the impasse with the district, the parents have decided to drive their son to school until the matter is resolved, which may not be for a while. Their first scheduled court appearance is on June 18.
“It’s called a serious safety hazard. We actually asked them politely 10 different times to move the bus stop, and each time we provided more and more evidence with regard to the law and the circumstances, and each time we were denied,” Toczycki told STN. “I don't know how many times my wife and I worried about our son getting to his bus pickup location safely. It's a good thing we eventually found state law supporting our position, but unfortunately AHSD 25 disagrees.”
He stressed that the impasse is even more upsetting because it would not cost the district anything to simply reroute the bus. Any additional cost would be billed to District 21, which is considered their home district.
“We pay $200 for this one-way bus service, which according to state law, should be recouped from our school district as it is getting the full benefit of our tax dollars, and our son doesn’t get any services from them,” said Toczycki, who is a patent lawyer at Northwestern University. “They believe that safety applies to their school district students but not to private school students like our son, even though they are transporting him.”
Part of the problem is the family lives in one school district but the transportation service is provided by another, he explained. Their house is located along a District 25 school bus route. Calls to District 25's superintendent were not returned at press time.
“The bus stop is on a narrow street with no sidewalks and no shoulders. Particularly with the snow, there is no place for our son to go. Quite often he has to jump to the side on someone’s lawn to avoid speeding cars,” Toczycki continued.
The lawsuit cites two state statutes to note that “Arlington Heights District 25 has a responsibility to provide safe bus transportation without cost” and that by refusing Toczycki's requests and requiring him to pay for bus service, the district is violating those statutes. The state statutes are 105 ILCS5/29-4 and 105 ILCS5/29-3.
“One thing 29-3 mentions is that if parents bring up a serious safety hazard en route to walk to the bus stop, the school district is required to conduct a safety review, and they are supposed to submit this safety review to the Illinois Department of Transportation for approval or disapproval,” he said.
In addition, Statute 29-3 has a set of guidelines using a point system based on the type of street it is, for example, how many lanes there are or whether there is a railroad crossing on it, he explained.
“If you get 12 points for one hazard or 20 points for two hazards, it’s considered a serious safety hazard. Crossing the five-lane highway makes it 13 points for our son. Walking the narrow streets, it turns out, is 10.5 points,” continued Toczycki. “And these streets are extra narrow so two cars can barely pass by each other.”
Toczycki noted that Illinois vehicle code 625 ILCS 5/11-1415 also supports his claim by stating, in essence, that no schoolchildren should be picked up from a place where they have to cross a four-lane highway, nor should they be dropped at said location: It has to be within a neighborhood without a four-lane highway.
He added that District 25 is also violating its own policy, a portion of which states, "In setting the (bus) routes, the pick-up and discharge points should be as safe for students as possible."
"Clearly this policy is not being applied in our son's case," he said.