Families march for student transportation

Sunday, November 14, 2021 1:19:00 PM

Press release 11 November 2021

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NYC families and allies march for safe and fair student transportation


For Immediate Release NOVEMBER 11, 2021 

Contact: pistnyc@gmail.com 

Interviews in Spanish: chaptertimon@gmail.com 


Chanting “Safety for the Children, Justice for the Workers” and “Get the Kids to School on Time,” a cross-section of the parent movement in New York City gathered today at the Department of Education headquarters and circled City Hall park. Their stated goal was to force the administration to acknowledge and correct the shortages of school bus drivers and bus paraprofessionals, flawed communication at the DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation, and the resulting delays and mental/financial hardship for hundreds of families. Some in attendance also drew attention to related issues such as crowded MTA buses near schools, the need to replace vehicles which pollute, and the suspension of Travel Training.


Parents to Improve School Transportation (PIST) co-founder Sara Catalinotto said the volunteer organization has been helping people navigate the “well kept secrets” of busing realities for ten years, while fighting to enact a School Bus Bill of Rights. “With all the tax money that goes to enrich private bus vendors, there should be no reason why riders, drivers, and attendants can’t have a good experience” on the familiar yellow vehicles. 


Mom and teacher Robin Bacigalupo added, “Studies show that the inequities among schools in different neighborhoods extend to the longer, more difficult commutes by Black and Brown students, those who are unhoused, and those with disabilities.” How Far Do NYC Students Travel to Get to School?


Johnnie Stevens of PIST said, “Words like ‘learning loss for students of color’ are thrown around to justify killing the remote learning option - to boost the economy in this pandemic - but where is the outcry when our communities’ children are literally left behind for lack of a dedicated school bus route?” 


Catalinotto added, “We hear tell of Andrew Cuomo’s attitudes towards women in State government. But what about the school bus workforce, which is sixty percent women? Year after year, he vetoed their Employee Protection Provisions (EPP) that would grant them wages and benefits to support themselves.” 


Blame for this was also applied to local policy choices. “School bus workers’ livelihood, and the quality of our children’s services, were undermined when the City decided to award bus routes to the lowest bidders without the EPP. This has had a ripple effect since 2013, decreasing the number of people willing to take on this very demanding work.”


A recently retired school bus driver commented, “I loved my job, but the disregard for us and the attendants and mechanics is too much--including the way all 15,000 were laid off in May 2020. Until school bus jobs are turned back into careers, there will be shortages.” She added, “Three or four times lately, my own child had no bus, so I had to drive her to and from school.”


Milagros Cancel, president of Comité Timón People and Families NYC Chapter, a co-sponsor of today’s event, stated, “Spanish speaking families face obstacles to finding out their rights around special education and transportation,” which is a related service under the IDEA that took effect seventeen years ago this month. “However, we know about fighting for change. We’re here and we plan to be back in bigger numbers next month.” 


Parent advocate and CEC member for Citywide Council for District 75 Amy Ming Tsai agreed that “We need all information in all home languages, and not just online! The DOE owes our children reasonable busing, metrocards, and the travel training program for youth with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities.” Tsai, who also participates in the Clean School Bus Coalition, added, “For environmental justice, we need non-diesel school buses to replace expired diesel buses as soon as possible,” referencing Intro 455A. 


Today’s protesters denounced the DOE’s gig car service and travel reimbursement as inadequate substitutes for the trained supervision that the school bus system is mandated to provide. Bronx mom Monica Roman filed paperwork in July to arrange proper busing accommodations for her daughter, but had no bus at all until October 27. “It took the DOE six weeks of school and a front page newspaper story to get Leslianne a route. Meanwhile I paid for cab rides - and childcare on those rides and walks. Nobody but PIST told me I could apply for reimbursement, and who knows how long that will take.”


Community Education Council 17 president Erika Kendall, who co-hosted a Citywide Student Transportation forum for 350 registrants on November 5, declared, “These problems impact general education students as well as students with disabilities. Schools in our district are angry. We are tired of the piecemeal approach--we want systemwide solutions!”


Dad and Health professional Evan Stein grieved the “three days so far when I’ve had to reschedule afternoon patients’ appointments and arrange coverage at the last minute to run and get my child due to lack of a school bus driver on the PM route.” Stein added that “all the families at state-approved non-public schools whose terms began before September 13 were told flat out that OPT would not provide routes until the 13th” and “We had no access to the online system that gave many public school parents and guardians the details of the child’s school bus route.”


District 75 parent leader and mother of four Rima Izquierdo stressed that there is also a shortage of school bus paraprofessionals and bus nurses, whose absence prevents certain children from boarding the bus even if it shows up. “At one campus in the Bronx, school began with 57 bus para vacancies at one site and over 30 at the other. We are calling for expedited recruitment and fair compensation for these essential service providers.”


This demand and others are elaborated in the Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE)’s Resolution on Pupil Transportation, available at https://docs.google.com/document/d/1I4ylfthGlHLgb4_zwwsH4Odyhnf-CNJDqaaXs7pL05o/edit?usp=sharing


Heather Dailey of the CCSE and Catalinotto have both noted that the bus complaints they’ve seen this Fall involving no-show buses were a stunning fifty percent of all transportation complaints. “Even if OPT claims the complaint numbers are down, which is dubious, the intensity is way, way up,” said Dailey, “to the point that the office of Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is gathering its own complaint data directly from parents” at gethelp@advocate.nyc and (212) (212)669-1939. 


Parents also intend to submit comments at next week’s Panel for Education Policy meeting, which will vote on over $9M fees for the subcontractor that runs the “Help Desk” at the Office of Pupil Transportation.




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