Advocates for Children

We Won! NYC Council Unanimously Passes GPS School Bus Tracking Bill

image by Free Press/ Free Press Action Fund

Today, the NYC Council passed Intro. 1099, a bill that Council Member Ben Kallos introduced at our suggestion, to allow parents to use GPS technology to track their child’s school bus. We are so excited and proud to have been a part of this community advocacy effort! Parents will have access to an app to track their children’s school bus by September 2019, and we know that this will be a useful tool (and a great relief) for the families of students in private and public schools alike.

One aspect of the bill must still be fixed: schools also require access to the data to truly ensure student safety. We have been promised that a technical “clean-up” bill to allow our schools to access the GPS data will be passed in time for September enactment as well.

The leadership of Council Member Ben Kallos, Education Chair Mark Treyger, and Speaker Corey Johnson in shepherding the bill through the legislative process is something we should all celebrate. Especially at this moment in our country, it’s truly heartening to see government work to advance the interests of vulnerable citizens.

Our community of special education students, families, schools, and advocates (shout out to Advocates for Children and NY Lawyers for the Public Interest!) is a mighty one and deserves to celebrate this win. 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. Congratulations to all!

(image by Free Press/ Free Press Action Fund)

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.

 

High school students with IEPs are being denied life-changing Career and Technical Education (CTE) opportunities

Students with disabilities have graduation rates that seriously lag behind general education students. In 2015, 83.1% of general education students graduated, but only 49.8% of students with IEPs did. No one has a magic bullet for fixing this, but Advocates for Children’s latest report, Obstacles and Opportunities, reveals that Career and Technical Education (CTE) may boost graduation rates for some of our students.

One of the reasons that students don’t graduate is struggling with the State’s graduation exams, and CTE provides a promising new pathway for graduation. As of 2015, NYS now allows a student who successfully completes a CTE program and earns a passing score on its assessment exam to forgo a fifth Regent exam. This is commonly referred to as the “4+1” option.

CTE may also be beneficial for students with disabilities because many of its programs are compatible with so-called “active teaching strategies” that incorporate movement, repetition, and other strategies or modes of learning that work better for some kids with developmental disabilities and learning disabilities. CTE has a wide range of disciplines (over 400 programs) that appeal to a variety of interests and skills in such fields and trades as culinary arts, automotive repair, web design, computer science and technology, carpentry, and more; so a student with a special interest may be more motivated to succeed in one of these programs.

Finally, CTE students gain hands-on career-building skills and may have access to internships, mentorships, and job shadowing. So, in addition to boosting matriculation rates, “students with disabilities who successfully pursue CTE are more likely to experience improved prospects for employment, earnings, and overall economic success,” according to the report’s findings. 

Unfortunately, because of changes in the overall job market, enrollment in these specialized CTE programs has become much more competitive. Advocates for Children found that students with disabilities were significantly underrepresented in CTE programs. Some of the many reasons for this, they said, include a lack of awareness among IEP teams about CTE opportunities and a parallel lack of awareness and training among CTE program staff about the diverse abilities of students with disabilities and how to accommodate and integrate them.

A frustrating catch-22 for students struggling with the Regents, who might particularly benefit from the 4+1 option, is that Advocates for Children found that many schools “restrict students from participating in CTE if they have not met Regents exam benchmarks.” Students themselves may also decide against enrolling in a CTE program if they are struggling to prepare for the Regents exams. According to the report, “students trying to fulfill these testing requirements while simultaneously pursuing CTE coursework may feel overwhelmed and forced to make decisions that may not be in their best long-term educational or career interests.” And while the opportunity to take advantage of the 4+1 option is compelling, only a few dozen of the over 400 CTE programs are currently approved as 4+1 options throughout New York State.

If you have a child in high school or who is approaching the high school age, it is well worth your time to read Obstacles and Opportunities in full. You can also find out more about CTE programming on the NYC Department of Education’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) webpage