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Special Needs Children In New York Are Not Getting Adequate Bus Service

November 27th, 2012

The parents of special needs children in New York City have been testifying about subpar school bus service in City Council hearings, to no avail.

According to parents, the city has a problematic school bus service, but officials from the Department of Education are not addressing the situation.  In a three-hour hearing last month, officials discussed the issues regarding the DOE’s school-busing system. Parents also spoke to explain the issues they have faced for their special-needs children, including overcrowding, chronic lateness, route changes, staff transfers, undertrained drivers and attendants, and extended ride times.

One highly-cited example of an extended ride time was a three-year-old boy with autism who had to travel for five hours to get home due to the route on which he was placed. Students with special needs have Individualized Education Programs which specifically state their travel time limit: the IEP travel mandate requires that no student with special needs will travel for longer than one-and-one-quarter hours at a time.

Additional complaints included parents and children waiting for a bus which failed to show or was late five or more times, and a bus which was unable to manage wheelchair-bound students. As part of an efficiency system, the drivers face fines if the bus arrives late to school; the wait time has decreased from three minutes to one minute, which means that a driver may feel forced to leave the area before the child has boarded.

Parents also stated that there may be language barrier issues with drivers and attendants, although according to the DOE, all drivers and attendants must be English-speaking. Also, parents stated that most of the bus drivers and attendants were not adequately trained to work with students with special needs; the bus companies contract to serve the city and what constitutes comprehensive training falls under their definition. Inconsistencies include buses which may or may not have air conditioning, may or may not be equipped with GPS systems and do not have safety cameras.

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