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NYC Council’s Committees on Education and Oversight and Investigations on School Bus Transportation Service

November 21, 2022
Lori Podvesker
In the Media, Testimony

We would like to thank the New York City Council’s Committees on Education and Oversight and Investigations for jointly holding this important oversight hearing on school bus transportation services. My name is Lori Podvesker and I am the Director of Disability and Education Policy at INCLUDEnyc. INCLUDEnyc is the leading source of training and information for young people ages 0-26 with known or suspected disabilities, their parents, and the professionals who support them. We have helped New York City families navigate the complex special education service and support systems for almost 40 years.

We commend the City for the last couple of years for their efforts to strengthen the efficacy and quality of school bus transportation services by establishing New York City School Bus Umbrella Services (NYCBUS), providing data on school bus routes to the City Council as per Local Laws 26 and 33 on school bus routes, creating more accessible information online for parents and caregivers, and the recent announcement of the City receiving an $18+ million grant to begin converting over 5,000 diesel buses towards electric and clean buses. 

However, these initiatives do not adequately address longtime systemic issues, nor timely ones as a result of the pandemic and the last few years. As a result, Citywide practices, policies, and lack of transparency and accountability on the provision of transportation services and vendor contract deliverables continue to inequitably impact the educational progress and social-emotional being of tens of thousands of students with disabilities in New York City. 

School bus staffing shortages have led to routing problems such as students from multiple schools being assigned to the same route. This has led to longer traveling time for students to and from school. Consequently, students with disabilities often are forced to sit on idle buses while they endure different starting and ending times of their busmates’ school day schedules. These same students often are on idling buses for longer than the three minutes that the current NYC law on vehicle idling allows, or one minute when adjacent to a K-12 school. Emissions from buses, especially diesel buses,  are one of the leading causes of air pollution that contributes to asthma and other serious health conditions. We know firsthand that low-income students and students of color are disproportionately impacted by air pollution. We also know there is a correlation between children in high-poverty areas being more likely to be diagnosed with asthma, and more likely to receive special education services.

Furthermore, students with disabilities miss related services and specialized instruction as a result of getting to school late, prematurely boarding buses in the afternoon so their bus route can transport students from multiple schools, and as a result of some students being heavily dysregulated and/or agitated from the time they were picked up by the bus from the time their actual school day begins. 

INCLUDEnyc hears from hundreds of parents each year about school buses and so far this year is no different than past ones. In addition to parents reaching out to us for help with the issues outlined above, here is a short list of additional ways we have helped parents in the last year:

  • Whose children were stuck at home and not being educated due to needing a busing paraprofessional or a porter
  • When their child could not receive meaningful special education recovery services in person because busing was not available
  • Looking to change their child’s bus route as a result of busing staff not understanding the characteristics of their child’s disabilities and repeatedly writing incident reports on their child’s sensory-related behavior
  • Distinguish the best process to escalate their busing problem to help them resolve their child’s school transportation issue; the school, Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT), bus company, due process determination
  • Navigate OPT 
  • Locate their child’s busing information

As a result of these chronic and pervasive issues, we recommend that the Department of Education and the City:

  • Update Chancellor Regulation A-801 on Pupil Transportation by August 2023. They were last updated more than 22 years ago.
  • Mandate one campus per bus route
  • Split up students according to their chronological ages, so elementary-aged students can no longer be assigned to buses with students up to the age of 21
  • Create an accountability mechanism that measures timely and language-accessible communication with families
  • Provide more public transparency on the organizational structure of OPT and funding (currently close to $2 billion)
  • Mandate additional annual training on young people with disabilities for all NYC busing staff. Require these trainings to be conducted by professionals with expertise in this area, and not allow bus companies to deliver them.
  • Amend Laws 26 and 33, so School Transportation Reports to City Council: 
    • Specifically include metrics on bus routes for students with disabilities mandated for specialized transportation 
    • Change the data structure to accurately capture the timeliness of curb-to-school routes from bus-centered to student-centered 

Thank you for taking the time to consider these important matters. We look forward to partnering with you to improve equity and access for all students with disabilities in New York City. 

Respectfully submitted, 

Lori Podvesker

Director of Disability and Education Policy