It’s Time to Demand 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.

THE YEAR IS 2018. Our city government has an app to allow the public to track the progress of snow plows in real time. Meanwhile, approximately 6,000 school buses equipped with GPS monitoring systems ferry disabled schoolchildren back and forth from school each day—but parents and schools are not allowed to access the data.

It’s obvious that an app to allow parents and teachers to see where a school bus is would make a huge, positive difference in the day-to-day lives of children with disabilities and their families, and in the operational efficiencies of the schools these kids attend. Apps like these are widely available in school districts across the country and there is no reason for New York City to be so behind the times.

We are therefore thrilled to announce that our discussions around this issue with New York Council Member Ben Kallos of Manhattan have led to the drafting of a bill to require the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) to make an app available to parents and schools showing the real time location of their children’s school buses via GPS technology. We expect this legislation to be introduced in September. Everyone who cares about special education busing will need to make their voices heard to ensure that this proposal is swiftly enacted.

According to OPT, over 600,000 schoolchildren ride the bus every day in New York City. Many of these are students with disabilities who receive busing as a special education service mandated on their IEPs. The youngest disabled children, toddlers in Early Intervention and preschool-aged children in CPSE, are also frequently bused to receive their services and attend center-based programs. Students with disabilities may have complex medical issues, or they may not be potty trained, others are nonverbal or low-verbal or use assistive technology to communicate, and many more have significant behavioral concerns and become dysregulated waiting for the bus or during longer rides. While most of the time kids do well on the bus and enjoy riding it, too many vulnerable children are impacted by chronically late buses and unreasonably long routes.

An app that shows where the school bus is in real time will make a huge difference because:

  • Children will spend less time waiting unnecessarily in extreme weather or when it would negatively impact their health, regulation, and safety. Parents will instead be able to make informed decisions about when to go outside to meet a late bus;
  • Schools will be able to make informed decisions about staffing to meet late buses;
  • Bus drivers and escorts will spend less time fielding phone calls and texts from worried parents and schools and instead focus on safe driving and the kids in their care; and
  • Emergency services will be able to quickly rescue a missing child when minutes and seconds count.

Schools, parent groups, and others who support the safety of students with disabilities in busing are encouraged to email Council Member Kallos’ office to be added to the list of endorsers. We will keep our email list and our Facebook page updated with advocacy opportunities once the bill is introduced.