It’s Time for a School Bus Tracking App

 Image:  A school bus drives through the city at night.

Image: A school bus drives through the city at night.

School busing in New York City got off to an especially abysmal start this year, with a record increase in complaints lodged with OPT for chronically late and no-show buses, among many other issues. Two-thirds of children who use yellow bus services are students with disabilities, so these operational inefficiencies disproportionately impact our families.

For years, our office has been frustrated to hear ever-worsening complaints about OPT and busing from our clients. Last spring, we decided that we’d had enough and began to advocate for legislation to require OPT to provide authorized parents and school officials with access to the real-time GPS location of a child’s bus via an app. We also asked that OPT be required to retain and disclose bus data at the request of a parent, because unfortunately, we believe that parents are sometimes not taken seriously when they complain.

We are thrilled to inform you that NYC Council Member Ben Kallos (Manhattan – Upper East Side/Roosevelt Island) has introduced our proposal, Intro. 1099-2018, and it is now a live bill that we expect the Committee on Education to take up this fall. (The press release announcing the bill’s introduction is linked here.)

The bill has already garnered some positive attention. The New York Post published an op-ed column strongly endorsing the measure. CBS New York mentioned it in a larger story about the need for background checks on school bus drivers.

We know that a great many of you are thinking: Great, but what can I do? And we are so glad you are, because this is a moment for collective action.

The three most important things you can do right now are:

1.     Contact your City Council Member. If they aren’t already a co-sponsor (check the list before you call/write), ask them to add their name to the bill and commit to vote in favor of it. And if they already are a co-sponsor, thank them!

We aren’t going to put out a draft letter or start an online petition because we know that personal stories are much more effective. However, scroll to the end of this article for talking points that may be helpful. 

You can find out who your Council Member is by inputting your address on this page of the New York City Council website.

2.     Spread the word. Talk to other special needs families and let the school your child attends know about this bill. Ask them to do what they can to support it too (i.e., contact their representatives, get the word out to their networks).

3.     Stay tuned. When public hearings are announced later this fall, we will let you know via our blog, Facebook page, and our email list.

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Talking Points for Outreach/Advocacy:

·      Hundreds of school districts around the country already offer parents a school bus tracking app.

·      The majority of NYC’s contracted school bus fleet (including all special education transportation) already has (‘Navman’) GPS installed at public expense.

·      Over 600,000 school children ride the bus to school every day.

·      Two thirds of our bus-riding students have IEPs. Students with disabilities may have complex medical issues, may not be potty trained, may be nonverbal or use assistive technology to communicate. Others may have significant behavioral concerns or become dysregulated in unstructured situations, in some sensory environments, or while waiting for extended periods of time. Dysregulated children are less safe and arrive at school unavailable for learning.

·      The youngest children riding a school bus are toddlers in Early Intervention’s center-based programs and preschool students in CPSE preschool programs.

·      When a parent doesn’t know where the bus is, they often try to call the bus driver or escort (matron). Fielding many phone calls, these employees are not doing their real jobs: driving and tending to the kids in their care.

·      When schools don’t know where a bus is, they are unable to staff classes effectively and waste time trying to locate students.

·      When a bus is very late for pick-up in the morning or after school, a disabled child may be waiting for long periods of time curbside, sometimes in extreme weather.

·      When a bus is too late to get a child to school, or doesn’t show up at all, parents and guardians often miss work to transport a child at their own expense.

·      When a bus is very late for drop-off to the home and the child seems to be missing, a parent may experience the trauma of fearing for their child’s safety unnecessarily.

·      When a bus takes too long to get to school, or the length of the trip is in violation of a child’s medical code for limited time travel, a parent is sometimes not taken seriously when they complain unless they have hard data.

·      Right now, affluent parents may buy another cell phone/plan or use an expensive service like Angel Sense to track their child on the bus. This peace of mind shouldn’t come at personal expense and only to the wealthy.

·      In the event that a sleeping child is left on a bus, or in any other situation in which a child goes missing, an app like this, in the hands of parents and schools, could save a young life.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: ON AUG 6TH OUR BROOKLYN OFFICE WILL TEMPORARILY CLOSE FOR RENOVATIONS. PHONE/MAIL REMAIN THE SAME.

Free Kindergarten Transition Workshops for Parents of Special Needs Children

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The Kindergarten transition process is undeniably daunting for families of special needs children—and New York City’s massive bureaucracy doesn’t make it any easier.

A few years ago, our founding partner, Regina Skyer, published a handbook for parents (How to Survive Turning 5). And every year, we hold free legal education workshops so that as many parents as possible can learn how to navigate the so-called “Turning Five” process in New York City.

This year we are offering two free events in October (one in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan). These workshops are designed for parents of preschoolers and interested special education professionals. We will go over independent evaluations, school applications, public program options, IEP meetings, hearings and appeal procedures, and more. We will also answer as many individual questions from attendees as time allows.

BROOKLYN
Thursday, October 25th, 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, 58 7th Avenue
Please RSVP via the registration page on the Music Therapy Parent Talks page on the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music website. Limited spots are available.
(This workshop is part two in a two-part series of workshops offered about the Turning Five process. Part one is a presentation by educational advocate Sarah Birnbaum on October 11th.)

MANHATTAN
Monday, October 29th, 6 PM – 8 PM
The Child Study Center at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, One Park Avenue, 7th Floor
Please RSVP via this Eventbrite link. Limited spots are available.

JCC/Lifestart Special Needs School Fair: Sep 27th

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The JCC Manhattan and NYL Lifestart’s annual Special Needs School Fair will be held on September 27th from 5:30pm-7:30pm at the JCC Manhattan’s building (334 Amsterdam Avenue at West 76th Street). This is an important event for parents whose children are approaching transitional moments into elementary school, middle school, or high school—or simply if the current school placement is no longer appropriate. Representatives from special needs private schools serving the New York City community will be there to provide information and answer your questions.

There is no cost to attend for parents. Families can register here.

Renovations to Our Brooklyn Office

It’s begun! Today we broke ground (or floor and wall, as the case may be), on renovations to our Brooklyn office, which will result in us having much more space to accommodate our growing roster of talented attorneys and support staff. We anticipate that these renovations will be complete in early October.

This doesn’t change anything for our clients. Mail should still be sent to our usual Brooklyn address. It will be collected there daily. Our phone and fax numbers also remain unchanged, however the best way to reach your case manager is through email. If you don’t know the email address of the person you need to reach, please email info@skyerlaw.com and your email will be promptly forwarded to the correct individual. Voicemails will also be returned daily.

We are hard at work on your cases in temporary office space and at our Manhattan office. We look forward to showing you our new Brooklyn digs this fall!

Operation Backpack 2018

 Image:  Brand new c  hildren's backpacks stuffed with school supplies.

Image: Brand new children's backpacks stuffed with school supplies.

Last year, #OperationBackpackNYC provided 18,000 children staying in New York City homeless and domestic violence shelters with a new backpack full of every grade-specific school supply they needed for the new school year.

Skyer Law is proud to be part of this Volunteers of America drive each year. And there are still a few days left to participate! Collection sites all over NYC are accepting backpacks until Friday, August 3rd. Get your "Fill A Backpack" shopping list for every grade level on the Volunteers of America website. This is a wonderful activity for parents to do with children as you go about your own back-to-school shopping.

Volunteers of America-Greater New York is grateful to work with sponsors, partners, and volunteers who understand the importance of this cause and the children it supports.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: ON AUG 6TH OUR BROOKLYN OFFICE WILL TEMPORARILY CLOSE FOR RENOVATIONS. PHONE/MAIL REMAIN THE SAME.