November 10, 2012
STUDENTS DISPLACED BY SANDY DESERVE THE BEST IN BUSING
Parents to Improve School Transportation (PIST) is alarmed by Governor Cuomo’s November 7 executive order to change what qualifies a driver to be a school bus driver and what qualifies a vehicle to be used for school transportation.
The Executive Order (http://www.governor.ny.gov/executiveorder/65) reminds us of other arbitrary decisions being decreed by State and City authorities during this crisis without input from the real stakeholders.
For example, on the eve of the November 5 return to school, NYCDOE:
(a) Claimed that 96% of bus routes would be running fine, without consulting bus workers who knew the realities of flooded out bus yards and the gas shortage;
(b) Advised people to call the Office of Pupil Transportation, but OPT facilities were still compromised by the storm: schools and parents have reported difficulty getting through to OPT and bus companies all week;
(c) Absolved OPT of responsibility for special transportation needs of students with disabilities for the return to school.
PIST extends our solidarity to families in—or displaced from—areas suffering from hurricane-related damage. Because we believe that transportation is a true extension of the school day, that can make or break equitable access to education, we want to make sure that displaced students will not be subjected to substandard busing conditions just so the City can collect attendance-based funding. Will the drivers have CPR training and background checks? Will there be seat belts? Will some children be forced to ride on Corrections Department buses?
There are qualified, trained and experienced drivers and attendants available to work—due in part to DOE’s disregard for the Employee Protection Provision, which allows school bus workers to follow the work instead of being replaced by new, lower-paid hires. There is federal and state money that could be invested in fully functional, properly equipped yellow school buses. Where is the will to make the rides safe and respectful for all concerned?
In our view, DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation has not shown itself capable or motivated enough to maximize the quality or quantity of bus routes available to schoolchildren. This can be seen by its refusal to provide middle school busing in Staten Island during 2010-11 and 2011-12, much less in the Rockaways, and its overlong routes for disabled students every year.
We demand that all planning for implementation of the Executive Order involve those entities most disposed to give proper consideration to Safety and fair labor practices. Here in NYC, the parent and community activist groups in the areas hardest hit by Sandy, along with the unions of school and school bus employees and other transit workers, are the organizations of record for resolving this crisis, and must be brought to the table. We want the Department of Education to immediately convene a meeting with these parties to exchange information and negotiate an emergency plan.
New Yorkers who agree can call 311 to express your support for a well-thought out plan for safe, quality bus rides for all who need them. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 347-504-3310 or see Face Book PIST NYC to be directed to a petition and more information.
(If you are reading this on www.pistnyc.org, please go to the Press page for coverage of the post-Sandy buses)