Sign outside of Annunicata Catholic School. Photo: Ingrid Cossio
There are many reasons why biking to school is beneficial to children, and for society in general. It provides physical activity, which is obviously key for good health and has been shown to improve performance in the classroom. It also helps with the traffic safety, congestion, and pollution issues associated with the widespread use of private cars to take children to school. That’s why the city of Chicago has generally encouraged biking to the public schools by installing bike racks and bike lanes, and through bike education initiatives like the city’s Bicycling Ambassadors.
However, it turns out that some local Catholic schools don’t just fail to promote biking to school but actually ban cycling. Yesterday Ingrid Cossio, mother of fallen cyclist Hector Avalos, posted on the Slow Roll Chicago Facebook page a letter from the principal of Annunciata School, 3750 East 112th Street in the East Side neighborhood, notifying her that school policy forbids students from biking to school. The school serves preschool through eighth grade students, and Hector’s twin younger sister and brother Brandy and Brandon, aged ten, attend the school.
Ingrid Cossio with her twins Brandy and Brandon. Photo: Facebook
In 2013 Hector, 28, a former Marine and aspiring chef who enjoyed gardening, camping and fishing, was fatally struck by a drunk driver while bicycling. The motorist was sentenced to only 100 days in prison.
“My kids are always talking about Hector,” Cossio told me. “My son wants to be like him. So when school started up this year, they said, ‘Why don’t we bike to school?'”
In the wake of Hector’s death, Cossio said she is concerned about drunk, reckless, and distracted drivers. “Safety is my number-one worry,” she said. However, the family lives only seven blocks from the school, so she decided to ride with the twins to school on Monday, the first day. The children rode on the sidewalk.
The letter from the principal. Click to enlarge.
“They really enjoyed it,” Cossio said. “It’s exercise, so when they got to school they were more alert and ready to learn.” They rode again on Tuesday, when a couple of teachers told Cossio they thought it was great the kids were exercising, and that they thought other children should ride to school as well. On both days Cossio locked the twins’ bikes on a pole on the sidewalk in front of the school.
However, on Tuesday evening Cossio’s daughter was given a letter from principal Edward A. Renas to take home. “Due to insurance policies, student safety, and concern for private property, students are not allowed to ride bicycles to school,” wrote Renas.
He cited an excerpt from the school handbook which states: “Bicycles, skateboards, scooters, and roller blades may not be brought to school property… The school is not responsible for any damages or theft of any equipment on school property.” Renas added that a sign stating the policy is posted by the main entrance of the school.
“Just taking my twins to school,” Cossio posted on the Slow Roll Facebook page. “Is this right?… I want my kids to exercise, to enjoy nature.”
After I called the school for more information on the bike ban, I heard from Anne Maselli, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools, which runs 217 schools in the region. Maselli explained that the archdiocese doesn’t have a set policy on whether biking to school should be encouraged, but instead leaves it up to the local school administrators. “I’m sure some other [of our Catholic] schools have the same or similar policies.”
Maselli guessed that Annuciation’s bike ban may be largely inspired by a desire to avoid liability in case of bike theft, but said concerns about traffic safety are also likely an issue. While 112th Street is a wide four-lane street, the school can also be accessed by quiet side streets, and a crossing guard is stationed on 112th during commute times.