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.
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.