A group of parents have joined forces to seek improvements to school bus transportation for students with disabilities.
Parents to Improve School Transportation (PIST) is working for long-term improvements to special education school busing provided by the Department of Education's Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) and seeking to prevent potential budget cuts that could impact service.
Sara Catalinotto, a United Federation of Teachers (UFT) delegate for the Lyons Community School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn said, “We are very concerned about all cuts threatened to public education,” including those proposed by the New York City Council. “What does that mean and won't our students with disabilities be the most vulnerable?”
PIST is calling on the OPT to provide adequate staffing by meeting special education standards for a sufficient supervisor to student ratio and to coordinate route schedules with class times to ensure on-time arrival of students.
“Understaffing leads to overloaded routes, which cause children to miss classes and cause unnecessary stress on families, educators and bus drivers/matrons,” the organization says in a flier.
Marge Feinberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said, “We met with this group on several occasions during the school year. Most of the complaints pertained to students attending a specific special education program in Manhattan and were addressed. We are open to hearing complaints from parents and groups pertaining to busing service and work to address problems as soon as we are notified.”
PIST has written a School Bus Bill of Rights supported by transportation providers, unions and parents and to help accomplish its mission. The bill calls on Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and the OPT to “respect physical and neurological needs of the children” by minimizing travel changes and time on the bus, “equip wheelchair vehicles with harnesses and headrests,” facilitate bus evacuation drills twice a year, “improve communication about emergency and long-term change, inform parents and special educators on how to secure transportation rights on the Individualized Education Program” and more.
It has been endorsed by the Amalgamated Transportation Union Local 1181, the Penn South Parents Committee and the CWA Local 1180 People With Disabilities Committee.
The Bill of Rights is also endorsed by Anthony Curry of the Challenge Prep Charter School Parents Association in Far Rockaway, UFT member Johnnie Stevens of the Child Care Providers’ Division, Crystal Alfano of NYC Parents Fed Up with Transportation Troubles and Margaret DePaula, a retired special educator and advocate for people with disabilities.
“We are gathering support for a School Bus Bill of Rights, which rather than limiting access will expand the preventative safety measures and insist on school-based power over route planning to avoid the problems our children have suffered every fall,” said Catalinotto. They plan to present the document to the mayor and other school officials.
PIST advocates for children without disabilities as well, calling for the restoration of general education busing through the eighth grade on Staten Island. For more information visit www.pistnyc.org.
This article was published in the July 2011 issue of Able News.