OPT

September Bus Route Information Now Available & Some Busing News

Earlier this week, OPT posted September-June bus routing information for most students who take the bus. All you need to look up your child’s bus route information is your child’s OSIS number (student ID number assigned by the DOE, which can be found on your child’s IEP) and your child’s date of birth. For “Education Type” select “Special Ed/Fall.”

Busing is a perennial source of worry and confusion for parents at the start of each school year, even for those who have been through the process before. Read our past blog posts for more information on who is entitled to busing and how to troubleshoot common problems.

Finally, you may have heard in the news this week that GPS is finally coming to school buses in September. This is welcome news, but unfortunately, somewhat misleading: it doesn’t mean that parents are going to have an app to track the bus on their phones any time soon (despite the law requiring this by September).

The new partnership between OPT and its contractor Via has just begun, and the DOE has refused to even provide a timeline for the release of an app for families. For now, however, it does mean that OPT says it will know where a school bus is when parents call.

Last year, our firm worked with Council Member Ben Kallos on the idea for this legislation. Along with many parents and other education advocates, we testified about the issue at City Hall. We are proud of our advocacy, and we share in your disappointment that the DOE has started the year unapologetically behind schedule and in violation of city law.

DOE will miss September deadline for GPS on NYC school buses

Skyer Law partners Jesse Cole Cutler and Diana Gersten at the press conference prior to the 2018 City Council hearing on school bus problems.

Skyer Law partners Jesse Cole Cutler and Diana Gersten at the press conference prior to the 2018 City Council hearing on school bus problems.

In January, we announced that the NYC Council had unanimously passed a bill to mandate GPS on all school buses and to provide parents and schools with an app to track where the bus is in real time. The bill was introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos. Our firm helped to craft the bill language and suggested its introduction. We testified at the City Council hearing about the importance of its passage.

After the new law was enacted, the DOE released a request for proposals in March and reportedly received nine bids for the contract. Unfortunately, as reported in The City today, the Department of Education is not on track to meet the legally mandated September launch of this service.

Access to GPS data is a simple, common-sense solution to many of the everyday stresses our clients face when it comes to school busing. While we are all disappointed that parents will not have access to GPS in September, we are hopeful about press reports that the DOE is “finalizing” a contract with an app developer. Still, it is concerning that the city doesn’t have a timeline for implementation.

Since legal deadlines do not seem to matter to the DOE, continued public pressure is needed. Contact the Mayor’s office and your City Council Members to make your views known.

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.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: ON AUG 6TH OUR BROOKLYN OFFICE WILL TEMPORARILY CLOSE FOR RENOVATIONS. PHONE/MAIL REMAIN THE SAME.