Update on Busing Issues

Last month, we were heartened by an amazing turnout by parents to the City Council oversight hearing on school bus problems. One of the many reform measures being considered at that hearing is Intro. 1099, which was introduced at our office’s suggestion by Council Member Ben Kallos. Intro. 1099 would require the Office of Pupil Transportation to provide an app to parents and schools in order to track the location of school buses in real-time.

Since the hearing, there has been little public discussion of busing reforms. But that all changed this week when the NY Daily News published a horrifying account of a bus matron physically abusing a child who attends Manhattan Childrens Center ('A parent's worst nightmare' — video captures NYC school bus attendant throttling girl with disabilities). We hope that public attention on this horrible incident will shine a light on the dire need for better vetting, training, and monitoring of bus employees—particularly those who work with vulnerable children with disabilities.

But that wasn’t the end of this week’s bus-related news. Today, federal investigators raided OPT offices as part of an investigation of corruption in bus contracting (Feds open probe into city contracts awarded to NYC's private school bus companies: sources).

And today’s New York Times features a powerful op-ed penned by the Executive Director of Advocates for Children, which includes a specific call for the passage of Intro 1099. (Head on over to that link and add your voice in the comments section—we know City officials are reading those comments! )

It’s important that we don’t take our foot off the gas. These bills have not moved to a vote before the full Council yet because the Education Committee and City Hall are still hammering out the details—behind closed doors. If you haven’t written to your Council Member to demand the passage of Intro. 1099, and any of the other bills being considered by the Education Committee that you support, now is the time.

 

Register Now for Skyer Law's Autism & Education Conference, Dec. 14th

Whether you are parenting a toddler, preschooler, school age child, or teen with autism, there is something for everyone at our December 14th conference, Autism & Education in New York City

Our keynote speaker is Dr. Stephen Shorea professor of Special Education at Adelphi University and an author of many highly regarded books on autism and education. Dr. Shore is also an autistic self-advocate. Our lunchtime speaker is an exceptional youth self-advocate, Rachel Sanders, who is a graduate of The Summit School in Queens and now attends Oberlin College.

Our conference features four panels: "Options in the Early Years: EI & CPSE," "Behavior & Methodology," "Testing & Evaluations," and "The Big Transition To Adulthood." We are honored to announce the list of distinguished speakers who will speak on these panels, representing many of the finest clinicians, experts, programs, and schools in New York:

Chantal Aflalo (educational consultant), Michael Boardman (ABA supervisor, NYLEL Lifestart), Allison Graham Brown (Director of Professional Development, NYU ASD Nest Support Project), Dr. Jennifer Cross (developmental and behavioral pediatrician, New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center), Dr. Rebecca Doggett (Clinical Director, ASD Service at NYU Child Study Center), Michelle Finkelman (Director, Harlem Center for Child Development), Iris Fishman (Director, Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders at NYU), Lauren Gallo (Director of College Placement & Transition Planning, Winston Prep), Dr. Amy Davies Lackey (Education Director, Manhattan Childrens Center), Dr. Cecelia McCarton (developmental pediatrician; founder, The McCarton Center), Tina McCourt (Director, Rebecca School), Margaret Poggi (Head of School, LearningSpring), Julie Russell (Educational Director, Brooklyn Autism Center), Dr. Francis Tabone (Head of School, Cooke), Dr. Laura Tagliareni (neuropsychologist, Pediatric Assessment Learning & Support), Dr. Susan M. Vener (Director, New York Child Learning Institute)

The conference will held on December 14th, from 8:45am-2:15pm at the Forchelli Center at Brooklyn Law School, 205 State Street, 22nd Floor. Registration is $35 and includes lunch. (If you cannot afford this registration fee, please contact Eliyanna Kaiser.)

 

Skyer Law Testifies at City Council School Bus Hearing

  Skyer Law partners Jesse Cole Cutler and Diana Gersten at the press conference prior to last week’s City Council hearing on school bus problems.

Skyer Law partners Jesse Cole Cutler and Diana Gersten at the press conference prior to last week’s City Council hearing on school bus problems.

Thank you to everyone who joined us at last week’s oversight hearing on student busing held by the New York City Council. Whether you came out to City Hall to stand at the press conference, helped to fill the Council’s Chambers to capacity, waited hours to testify in person, or submitted testimony by email, you helped make a difference for over 150,000 schoolchildren who rely on the school bus each day.

(A video recording of the hearing is available to view on the City Council’s website.)

  Jesse Cole Cutler testifies at the NYC Council Education Committee’s Oversight Hearing on school bus problems, October 16, 2018.

Jesse Cole Cutler testifies at the NYC Council Education Committee’s Oversight Hearing on school bus problems, October 16, 2018.

On behalf of Skyer Law, partner Jesse Cole Cutler presented testimony and answered questions posed to him by members of the City Council Education Committee. We were heartened by the thoughtful questions of Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger, who committed to advancing Introduction 1099, the GPS school bus tracking bill, from his committee.

When the DOE testified, Chancellor Carranza acknowledged that 2018-19 got off to a terrible start, but didn’t present a detailed vision for how to fix OPT. This lack of vision is perhaps unsurprising to most of us. But while a few high-profile firings, a reshuffling of org charts, and a fancy new Twitter account fail to impress, the City Council’s awakening to the scope and depth of the problem is a very hopeful sign.

We all know that OPT needs a hard reboot. What has been most lacking to jumpstart this process is oversight, legal mandates, media scrutiny, an internal sense of urgency at the DOE, and, most importantly, a radical cultural disruption to the normalization of poor service.  Now, for the first time, it seems that these essential components are starting to come together.

But successful advocacy does not allow for complacency. We will keep you updated as this bill, and others, advance through the City Council legislative process.  

If you missed hearing about last week’s hearing on the news, here are some links:

Problems with OPT? Testify at the City Hall on October 16th

The NYC Council's Education Committee is holding an oversight hearing on Tuesday, October 16th looking into the chronic problems with student busing (OPT). If you are one of the tens of thousands of parents of kids who have suffered from worsening busing problems, please testify. It's time for change. We will be right there with you. Jesse Cole Cutler, one of our partners, will be testifying in support of our clients.

Several bills that could provide meaningful reform are being considered as part of this hearing, including Introduction 1099-2018, which was introduced at our suggestion by Council Member Ben Kallos. That bill requires that parents and schools be provided with real-time GPS data for their children’s school buses. (For more information on that issue, please see our blog post, “It’s Time for a School Bus Tracking App.”)

WHEN
The hearing is scheduled for this coming Tuesday, October 16, 2018 at 1PM at the Council Chambers of City Hall, New York, NY 10007.

TESTIMONY
Public hearings can be anywhere from 1-4 hours, so be prepared to wait your turn to speak. Also, the DOE will be allowed to testify first and their time won't be restricted.

Members of the public presenting oral testimony may be restricted to two (2) minutes to speak – so you need to make your best points as quickly as possible. Council Members may ask you questions afterwards, and that will give you a few more minutes to make further comments.

Your written testimony may be as long as you want. Bring 20 double-sided copies to give to the Committee members.

If you need help printing copies of your testimony, let the Council Member’s office know (Policy@BenKallos.com) or Eliyanna Kaiser in our office (ekaiser@skyerlaw.com) and we will try to help you. We don’t want this to be a barrier to participation.

RSVP
Please share that you can testify by emailing Council Member Kallos' office directly: Policy@BenKallos.com

Also, let his office know if you are willing to speak to the press or attend a press conference prior to the hearing regarding the GPS bus tracking bill specifically.

CAN’T MAKE IT? HERE'S WHAT ELSE YOU CAN DO:

1. Try to find someone else to attend the hearing and read testimony on your behalf.

2. Encourage your parent friends (and, if your child attends a non-public school or center, your school administrators) to submit testimony to amplify the collective voices of our community.

3. Email your written testimony (of any length) to the Office of Council Member Kallos (policy@BenKallos.com) and ask for it to be added to the official record.

Skyer Law Victory at State Review Office Establishes Case Law Benefitting Parents

When parents show up to our offices, it is not unusual to hear that the Department of Education has failed to hold an IEP meeting for their school-age child for a year or more. As a result, whenever it is applicable, this is cited in our notices as a critical fact. Forgetting to hold an IEP meeting is a black-and-white example of a failure to offer a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as required by federal law.

In these situations, the district most always acts rationally and offers to settle the case. However, we had a recent case that was unusual because after the case was referred for settlement, and smack in the middle of our negotiations, an IEP meeting for the child was held and the team determined that the child was “non-handicapped” and therefore not eligible for an IEP or any services. Suddenly, the DOE changed its tune on negotiations and said they would only settle the tuition for the child's private school through the date of that IEP meeting.

Completely separate from the question of whether or not the child has a disability (he does), this stance about a half-year tuition settlement is wholly unreasonable. When the DOE failed to offer a FAPE prior to September, it placed the parents in a situation in which they had to act for their child for that entire academic year--not just for part of it. 

We took the case to hearing, but the Impartial Hearing Officer ruled with the district, so we appealed. Two of our fierce attorneys, Teri Horowitz and Linda Goldman, argued the appeal before the NYS Education Department’s Office of State Review in Albany. We were vindicated when the SRO ruled in our favor.

This is an important precedent for parents in New York, and we believe it will discourage the DOE from trying to act similarly in the future. When the DOE fails to live up to its responsibilities, it should not have loopholes for wiggling out of its obligations.

The full decision for the case, SRO 18-085, is not yet posted on the state’s website. We will update this article on our blog when that link is live for those who are interested.