Fighting rare disease, Merrick mom wants change in state busing law

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Though she has suffered from mastocytosis since she was a child, Notrica’s condition worsened after the birth of her second child. For most of her life — until April 2011 — doctors were unable to properly diagnose her condition. She is now undergoing chemotherapy, and has made significant progress since that diagnosis. But after she emailed photographs of herself taken in 2010 — when she weighed 100 pounds and was on a feeding tube — to the Merrick Board of Education, the district allowed her children to take the bus to and from school.

“It was a very hard situation,” Notrica said. “Ultimately, they did do the right thing by my children. Back at the time, there were different board members and a different superintendent.”

Dominick Palma, the district’s superintendent since last September, said that he was unfamiliar with Notrica or her situation and could not discuss individual students. He confirmed that children who live within half a mile of their schools are not entitled to busing in the Merrick district.

A legislative fight

State education law guarantees busing for children in kindergarten through eighth grade who live more than two miles from their schools, but it allows voters in each school district to set busing restrictions by referendum for children who live closer to their schools.

“The law does not allow [the district] to make these exceptions,” Palma said when asked about a hypothetical situation involving a family in the same circumstances as Notrica’s.

Barbara Bradley, a spokeswoman for the New York State School Boards Association, disagreed, saying that the NYSSBA believes the current law already grants school boards that discretion. She said that the association opposes amending education law to make the power explicit.

“We feel that the current law allows school districts to do these kinds of things without this being codified,” Bradley said.

Notrica said she was surprised to learn that NYSSBA opposes the law change that she is seeking. “I feel this needs to get done for other families,” Notrica said. “We incurred a tremendous expense. I always said, what if I was a single parent?”

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