OPT

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.

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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.

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.


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

Busing Part 2: Troubleshooting

It’s nerve-racking, particularly if this is your first time dealing with the NYC Office of Pupil Transportation (commonly referred to as OPT), but busing doesn’t get worked out until the very end of the summer, and parents must expect to do some follow-up. OPT is a sprawling agency that provides busing for over 600,000 students every year.

At the end of August, if you have not yet received a notice in the mail from OPT, check the OPT website for your child's record and routing information. You will need to input your child’s birthdate and nine digit NYC ID number (sometimes called an OSIS number) to access the OPT student information web-form. You can find your child's NYC ID number on their IEP.

If you don’t see the information you need for your child, call OPT and ask if your child and/or their assigned routing information is in the system (sometimes the online system hasn’t caught up). At the same time, reach out to the busing liaison at your child’s school and alert them to the issue. If these folks are unable to quickly address things, you may need to contact your CSE district representative (and let your attorney or advocate know too). Sometimes it becomes necessary to bring your child’s IEP to the CSE offices and more or less camp out until you can speak to someone.

Unfortunately, it is the case that many bus routes are not properly assigned when the school year begins. Because this happens so often, we always advise clients that it’s good to have a back-up plan for transportation for the first few weeks of the school year, even if busing is provided for on your child’s IEP.

It’s also not unusual to get your scheduling call from the assigned bus company with your child’s pick-up and drop-off time only a few days before the start of school—even though we’d all like that information a lot earlier. The reason for this is that only after all the routes are assigned can drivers go out into the streets with their vehicles to practice them. These dry runs are how pick up and drop off times are initially set. Try not to panic when you are given a pick-up time of 6:15 am (for example). Most of the time, as the driver learns the route, these times shift forward considerably.

When that big first day arrives, reserve a smile and warm greeting for the driver and matron. Drivers and matrons of course vary in quality, but for the most part they care about kids and take their jobs seriously. It is in your best interest to establish a good relationship with them. They may be willing to give you their phone numbers so that you can be in direct contact (although you can always contact the bus company dispatcher too).

However, if you do have a problem with the driver or matron, or with your child’s busing in general, you can file a complaint with OPT (718-392-8855). Ask your child’s school to do the same. The most common problem we see is a bus that is consistently late for school, and it is much easier to address this if your child’s school is documenting it properly and communicating with OPT.

For the most part, once the route issues are worked out, children love the bus! So hang in there.

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This is part two of a two-part article about busing. Part 1 discusses how to secure busing from the DOE.