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NYC students walk to save free rides

Adriana Cortez, 15, of Hillcrest High School in Queens, joined other students on the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday to protest planned budget cuts in the student MetroCard program. Adriana Cortez, 15, of Hillcrest High School in Queens, joined other students on the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday to protest planned budget cuts in the student MetroCard program. (Frank Franklin Ii/Associated Press)
Associated Press / June 12, 2010

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NEW YORK — About 1,000 New York City high school students chanted “This is what democracy looks like!’’ and waved homemade signs and banners yesterday as they marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest a plan to eliminate their free transit passes.

The students walked out of classrooms all over the city at noon and converged at City Hall Park for a rally with elected officials and transit union members.

Then they marched across the bridge for a second rally at the former headquarters of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Brooklyn.

Fernando Matos, 17, a student at Samuel Gompers High School in the Bronx, said that without a free transit pass he would have to transfer to a different school. “I do not want to go to a local high school,’’ he said. “It doesn’t have the classes I need.’’

The protest comes a day after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a stepped-up effort to fight truancy. Bloomberg said yesterday that the students should have stayed in class.

“If I were them, I’d just think long and hard someday,’’ he said. “If I didn’t pass a test, I’d always go back and wonder, ‘Was it that afternoon when I was trying to be cute and picketing was better than being in class?’ ’’

Some 500,000 city students receive free or reduced fares to get to and from school. The MTA has proposed ending the perk as part of its effort to close an $800 million budget gap.

Without the free passes, families would be forced to buy monthly MetroCards at a cost of about $1,000 a year per child.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said that any disciplinary action the students might face for cutting class would be up to their principals.

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