Busing

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.

 

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.

It’s Time for 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.

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.


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