FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Statement by Regina Skyer
“Our office was horrified to learn that as a result of last night’s storm, a (yet-to-be-disclosed) number of disabled students who rely on the school bus for their transportation to and from school, were trapped for an excessive number of hours on school buses without food, water, access to a bathroom, or medical attention. A number of preschool students with disabilities were still on the bus after midnight, and the Office of Pupil Transportation has informed us that the last run was marked complete after 4:00 am.
“We are extremely lucky that no child, as far as we know, came to serious harm.
“As part of our advocacy efforts last night, after being contacted by the parent of a child who attends Harlem Child Development Center (CDC), we asked the city to send emergency services to check on the students’ health and well-being and to help them get home. We are told that NYPD and FDNY eventually were dispatched to escort at least that one school bus through traffic, but it is our understanding that no one physically boarded the bus to conduct a health and welfare check.
“This morning, we learned that CDC, which is a therapeutic nursery school that services children with disabilities including those with health conditions, had not been contacted yesterday before their dismissal at 2:00 pm to flag that problems were anticipated.
“These are not simple problems. And while it is clear that no one could have predicted the extent of last night’s storm, it is also abundantly clear that OPT had no plan in place for this eventuality. That lack of preparation jeopardized the health and safety of the tens of thousands of disabled students who rely on the bus each day for transportation to specialized programs and schools. Unpredictable events do occur; that is predictable.
“Last month, the City Council held an oversight hearing examining OPT and the endemic problems with student busing. A major focus of that hearing was Intro. 1099, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos. Our office supported the introduction of this measure, which would require OPT to provide parents and schools with real-time GPS location of school buses.
“Intro. 1099 was on our minds last night as we spoke to a desperate mother, who for over five hours, was literally searching the Bronx for her three-year-old’s bus.
“We should not have faith in the Department of Education to solve these problems alone. An independent investigation into last night’s events must be conducted, and a comprehensive plan must be put in place to ensure the health and safety of children on OPT-contracted school buses.”