Another parent's reflections & testimony from same hearing

Sunday, March 30, 2014 9:34:00 PM

courtesy of Carin van der Donk

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Dear Friends,

First, a few of you came out to support our kids cause, and I thank you! But considering what is potentially about to happen to the quality of our children's school bus transportation, not enough of us stood out there to be heard. You think it's bad now, wait till all the bus routes have the EPP removed from their contracts!

Personally, our bus situation this year has been relatively smooth. Our route has an EPP, and the drivers and matrons have been nothing but professional, efficient and kind. But I heard testimony during the hearing about non EPP routes, and the quality of the new staff  on those routes. Now I am extremely worried about my sons bus situation next year, when our route will most likely be without that EPP. All parents, educators and therapists should be worried. I  will have to start planning for a lot of turmoil in our lives, and my sons education. And I am not even mentioning the safety aspect of this!

I also heard about the devastation the removal of the EPP caused to the many drivers and matrons who made taking care of our children a career. A stable, working class career with modest pay, health care benefits, and a modest pension. I had difficulty not to burst into tears listening about the negative effects inflicted on the lives of these men and women (60% female, mostly minorities). I believe I saw our newly elected public advocate, Leticia James, actually wipe away a few tears.

But the tears have been wiped away before, in other hearings I have attended over the years. Does it even matter? The council seemed very sympathetic, but they have seemed so before in prior years. Nothing changed. Is it all just a theater? Now we have a new administration. Will that make the difference? Or will there first have to be a tragic accident before anybody takes real action?

On the evening of the Thursday hearing, NBC news ran another great follow up piece on our situation.(http://www.nbcnewyork.com/investigations/)

It highlights the current situation of very medically fragile children in one school, who spend an unnecessary, ridiculous, unsafe amount of time on their routes. Melissa Russo, the investigative reporter of this piece, asked for a reaction from the de Blasio administration. Their response is that they "are committed to making long-term improvements to the bus system, and even as we put those in place, we are also making significant strides improving our communication with parents. We are looking at new ways to be more responsive and reexamining our procedures".

However, last January, the de Blasio administration did not change any of the staff at OPT that has been responsible for the mess we have experienced over the years. Perhaps there is a good reason for this, and I remain hopeful. In my humble opinion, they will have to start with reinstating the EPP, or something comparable ASAP.

In solidarity,

Carin van der Donk
PS: Attaching my testimony

Testimony before the Committee on Civil Service and Labor regarding:  The school bus industry in the aftermath of the removal of Employee Protection Provisions from contracts and its impact on workers
3/27/14
Thank you to the Chairperson of the Committee on Civil Service and Labor, and the rest of the members of this committee for holding this important hearing.
My name is Carin van der Donk, and I testify here as a parent who has spent over ten years advocating on behalf of my child who is a district 75 student, and attends a state funded private school. After experiencing the many needless, systemic, and dangerous problems with my sons 2 ½, to even 6 hours, daily commute to and from school, I became an advocate for all NYC students, and the people who work with them.
It has been several years now, and during this time I have gathered an extensive knowledge about the school bus system. I could talk about this issue for hours upon hours, and am always eager to learn more. But I will try to keep this simple, so I am attaching a document called “busing by the numbers” with some important, but hard to find, information, much of which I learned while sitting in hearings like this one today.  I hope this might be helpful.
As I mentioned, my son spends a significant time on a school bus on a daily basis.  At a minimum around 2 hours a day (if we receive the best possible route), but most years it has been between 3 to 4 hours each day. This would be strenuous for ANY child, let alone a child with disabilities.  But this hearing is not about that, but about the people that work with him during those hours, and their own working conditions while caring for my child.
My child’s driver and matron are a very important part of his day. In the morning, they are the first people he sees. They are the first people who influence his state of mind, and his ability to learn each and every day. When these men and woman are patient, understand the students disabilities, are able to communicate, and in general are professional and efficient, it makes everything else in the school day possible. When the opposite happens, it sets up a child to be stressed and not ready to learn in school. Many hours will be spend by school staff to fix a situation that might have occurred on a bus. If a problem on a bus is persistent, it can go as far as for a student to no longer be able be on that school bus without causing serious harm in some way. That is exactly what happened to our family.  So I had to start driving my child to school.  And I did just that for 2 years. In between those drives, I had the time to start advocating for additional training for school bus personnel who transport our children with disabilities. I met many kindred spirits along the way, and as a result in 2013, Mr. Kellner introduced State Law A 8060, which calls for more training regarding students with special needs for drivers and matrons. But this appears to be not getting anywhere because of Mr. Kellner’s problems in his political career.
In the meantime, instead of MORE training and the situation improving, our last administration wanted to save money by turning the jobs of drivers and matrons into a low wage, low skill job.  So now I have found myself also advocating for those drivers and matrons who do perform well on their job. My son has been back on a school bus now for 3 years. During this time we have enjoyed the good cheer, professionalism, patience and understanding by experienced drivers and matrons.
Recently, the bankruptcy of Atlantic Express was a great cause of concern to me. But because my sons Atlantic Express route came with an EPP contract, the same team stayed with his bus route after the New Year, and it was just a different company that provided the bus. The EPP worked very well in this instance, providing us with a relatively smooth transition. (The team has changed since, and fortunately this was another successful transition.)
We were lucky, but many other families were not.
Disruptions in children’s lives and their education are different from anything else.  It is not like a business where one can play the other’s bluff to negotiate a better deal.  If a few weeks or months of learning are lost, our children lose and they can never get that time back. And the possibility of physical harm coming to a child because a bus team doesn’t know how to handle dangerous situations that can easily arise when they are transporting children with various disabilities is great. In February we had an ice storm and while many parents kept their children home, I chose to send my son to school. I sent him because I knew that he would be safe on a bus with a driver who had 29 years experience driving children with special needs.
I cannot stress enough that by no means is driving around children, and especially children with special needs, an easy, low wage job that requires only minimal skill. The only reason I have had the luck to work with drivers and matrons who do know how to handle my child correctly, is because of the many years of experience they have. So I urge this council to make sure these men and women continue working with rules like the EPP in place, and are not left at the mercy of private, for profit bus companies. In addition I urge our politicians to continue the process to increase training for the bus attendants.

 

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