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Queens students slam free MetroCard cuts

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With the future of their free, student MetroCards in jeopardy, teens from Queens high schools joined hundreds of their peers in Manhattan Friday afternoon to urge the MTA to rethink its plans.

The Urban Youth Collaborative, a student-run youth organization, amassed hundreds of city pupils at City Hall in the middle of the afternoon to protest the agency’s plans to remove the nearly 600,000 student MetroCards next fall. The MTA said it needs to close an $800 million budget gap, but students like Channatie Rumnauth, 15, of Hillcrest High School in Jamaica said they are being unnecessarily targeted.

“I know one girl who comes all the way from the Bronx to here,” she said just as she was leaving the school to head to the rally with 15 other students. “It’s hard because a lot of parents are working and can’t drop us.”

Around noon, students from 23 high schools in the city, including Hillcrest, Flushing, Long Island City and Francis Lewis, walked out of their classes and got on specially organized buses to Manhattan. Although classes were still in session and some teachers and principals were enforcing attendance, teens still stuck to their plans.

“I think it’ll make people show how much we care about it,” said Adriana Cortez, 15, who commutes to Hillcrest every day from Woodhaven.

At City Hall Park, the 2,000 students, who came with specially made T-shirts, banners and posters, called on the mayor to do something about the issue. The protesters received support from numerous organizations and unions, including the Transit Workers Union and the United Federation of Teachers.

“It’s an upside-down world we live in when banks get bailed out and student metro passes get taken away from our students,” Marvin Holloway, a TWU member, said in a statement.

The students marched to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Brooklyn offices and demanded that it give the students the free passes in the fall.

The MTA said it would like to continue to provide the free MetroCards to students, but funding from the state and city is preventing it from providing the service.

“We are optimistic that New York City schoolchildren will continue to benefit from free or discounted rides, but it is the responsibility of the city and state to fully fund the student MetroCard program,” the agency said in a statement.

Supporters of the rally said the MTA was not doing enough and should target other areas in its budget to balance its books.

“At a moment in history when low-income and working class students’ lives are plagued by housing, health care and economic insecurity, we have a civic responsibility to provide them with the fundamental supports for quality education — and that includes their access to public transit,” said Michelle Fine, a psychology professor at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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