*also see twitter thread at https://twitter.com/pistnyc/status/1489804483295166464
NYC Student Transportation Advocates Recognize Rosa Parks’ Birthday
as National Transit Equity Day
Officials pledge support for the School Bus Bill of Rights campaign
Coalition to March for Transportation Inclusion, Equity & Reform for Students on March 19th
NEW YORK, NY, February 6, 2022 On Friday, February 4th, Parents to Improve School Transportation (PIST NYC) convened education, disability, and labor advocates to expose multiple facets of NYC’s chronic student transportation failures and to propose solutions via a School Bus Bill of Rights. The event, marking the birthday of civil rights Rosa Parks–now known as Transit Equity Day, brought together a diverse group of parents/caregivers, elected officials including State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon and the Office of Public Advocate, the local Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, and environmentalists.
“Transportation for access to education is now a civil and human right under many laws and international conventions, but just like the people of 1955 Montgomery, we need collective action to get it,” said Johnnie Stevens, Coordinator of PIST’s School Bus Bill of Rights Referendum Campaign. He added, “safe, on-time, fully staffed school bus routes for students of all abilities and all housing circumstances” is long overdue.
Organizers from across the city charged that policy changes both before and during the pandemic have led to missed school time and increased health risks for riders, and to a shrinking workforce. Claudia Galicia from Sunset Park explained the DOE this year “authorized the routes to be doubled up” adding, “families may be informed when a child in the same school is Covid positive, but the bus routes include children from several schools.”
Bronx mom and Comité Timón NY leader Milagros Cancel spoke of the resulting inhumanity of long bus rides for children with medical and neurological conditions. Speaking in Spanish through tears, Cancel urged everyone to march over the Brooklyn Bridge on March 19th for equity in student transportation, saying, “This is criminal what's happening. What if it were your child?”
All in attendance agreed: Driver, Attendant, Paraprofessionals & Bus Nurse shortages pre-date Covid and have serious consequences. In the words of NYC Public Advocate, Jumaane Williams, "The inequities and inadequacies in our educational system – which existed prior to the pandemic and have been exacerbated by it – extend to our buses. Shortages of staffing, length of rides, and overcrowding are persistent issues which disproportionately harm communities of more color and students with disabilities. The city must work to hire and train more staff at fair wages, develop shorter routes, and provide transparency and accountability throughout these processes." Williams was represented in the meeting by First Deputy Nick E. Smith and Education staff.
Sara Catalinotto of PIST NYC said, “We predicted, over ten years ago, that cuts to pay and ‘E.P.P’ job protections would push many school bus drivers and attendants from the workforce.” Amy Tsai of the Citywide Council for District 75 reminded the gathering that, “there was a huge furlough in 2020, so over that summer, a lot of kids weren't able to utilize the Learning Centers for related services or instruction.” First Vice President of the Citywide Council on Special Education, Paullette Healy, added: “We have special education recovery services that started in December, and families cannot access them because there's no transportation to get our children home.”
Rima Izquierdo of Bronx Autism Family Support elaborated on the concurrent shortage of school bus paraprofessionals and bus nurses, indicating her child in the background, who was “stuck at home again because his bus para called in sick, and there’s no one else designated to ride with him.” Mother and Protect NYC Special Education leader Maggie Sanchez testified in detail that “Students in temporary housing miss more instruction and services, due to transportation problems, compared to their peers. We know what it's like not to receive a bus route for weeks on end due to a simple address change.”
Charles Jenkins, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists NY Chapter, pledged support, saying that workers “need to be paid on a professional level that has benefits so that we can hire the best qualified and the best-skilled folks to transport precious cargo.”
State Assembly Member and Disability Civil Rights Lawyer, Jo Anne Simon offered legislative support and congratulated the coalition for “seeing this as a multi-pronged problem.” Simon later tweeted, “I was glad to join @PISTnyc's call for equity in our school transit systems on #TransitEquityDay. I support a School Bus Bill of Rights to ensure students with disabilities have access to safe & equitable transportation to and from school.”
Another stated goal of this campaign is to prevent and troubleshoot problems efficiently without bias.. Galicia blasted the DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) complaint hotline as an exercise in futility, saying: “There are long hold times, no follow-up, and no solutions. I don't have enough hours of the day to make a complaint–two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon–because the limited time travel of my child is being violated.” The flyer for Friday’s event called for proactive communication about routes, in multiple languages utilizing varied platforms.
Beth Heller from Brooklyn Heights added, “Rather than correct the route problems, OPT sent cabs/car services for my child. I had to accompany him to and from school for a total of four hours a day. When OPT neglected to reserve a return trip, it cost $60.00 to get home. If OPT were to send us to and from my son’s non-public school for a full academic year it would cost $42,300. That could easily pay someone’s salary. How much money is OPT spending per year on this stop-gap measure?”
Speakers endorsed the goal of conversion to vehicles that do not subject riders, workers and the environment to pollution. Justin Wood of the Clean School Bus Coalition cited evidence that “unhealthy conditions are caused by the diesel and gasoline school buses themselves, creating serious health issues for students, in both general and special education...and we know there's linkages to severe Covid-19 illness now as well.”
Event organizers said they had also received messages of encouragement from Chris Greif of the Advisory Committee on Transit Accessibility, City Council Member Gale Brewer, District 17 Community Education Council President Erika N. Kendall, Teamsters Local 808 Secretary-Treasurer Chris Silvera, and various education and community activists.
The newly energized coalition closed by announcing plans to rally and march across the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday, March 19th. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Graphic: Heather Dailey