Why OPT Direly Needs A School Bus Tracking App

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After a hectic summer, for many parents, the first day of school is gleefully anticipated, however, there is one bone of contention that always seems to mar our euphoria — school bussing. From no-show to late buses, buses that breakdown, buses that have no heat or air-conditioning, our children arriving home hours late — school buses have become the bane of our existence. And my biggest fear? Not knowing the exact geographic location of where my non-verbal daughter with autism is on the bus route. However, there is a solution — A School Bus Tracking App.

A member of Rockaway Beach Autism Families shared that the Law Offices of Regina Skyer & Associates, a law firm that advocates, mediates, and litigates on behalf of children with special education needs, is advocating for legislation to require the Department of Education’s Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) to provide authorized parents and school officials with access to the real-time GPS location of a child’s bus via an app. Also, they are demanding that “OPT be required to retain and disclose bus data at the request of a parent, because unfortunately, we believe that parents are sometimes not taken seriously when they complain,” stated the law firm’s September 21, 2018 blog post, “It’s Time for a School Bus Tracking App.”

I am wholeheartedly — hook, line and sinker — on board with this legislation. In a September 15 article, The New York Post told the story of five-year-old Lystra Liu being taken on a four-hour bus ride before being dropped off at the wrong stop. According to the article, “Lystra was one of the legions of public and private school kids whose parents flooded a city hotline with 76,223 complaints — 32 percent more than the 57,575 last year — about late or no-show school buses since classes started…After the bus failed to pick up Lystra two mornings in a row, Lystra’s mom asked the driver for her cell number to stay in touch. The driver refused, so the worried mom put a GPS tracker app on the kindergartner’s cell phone.”

Many moons ago, when I was at the time working in Manhattan, and DOE ludicrously decided to place my daughter in a District 75 school in Bellerose, Queens (after I toured and requested what I considered top notch special education programs in Rockaway), my grandmother phoned to inform me that my daughter had not arrived from school. At this point, she was an hour late. I exploded, feeling guilty that I had not made my usual call that day to make sure she was home, as I was buried in work. I called the school, they said as far as they knew, she was picked up on time. I phoned the bus company, was put on hold, then got disconnected. Phoned again, got put on hold. At this point I was on the brink of bawling, cursing the universe, desperate to know where in the hell was my pooh. Finally, I was abruptly told that the bus had to stop because one of the students on board attacked the matron and tried to climb out the window. I asked where exactly was the bus. The bus company just said, “We are doing the best we can to mitigate the situation.” Mitigate? Where is she? I don’t want to hear about mitigation. I want my daughter home!

Thankfully, she got home a whopping three hours later. However, as she was and still is nonverbal, I have no idea what happened that day, and now each time she boards a school bus, I wonder the same thing.

After that day, I now had the proper arsenal get her to transferred to a school in Rockaway, and by God’s grace, I was blessed with the opportunity to work locally, where I can be a 15-minute drive away from my daughter’s school. Since this September, we drive her to school, as why on earth are they picking her up at 6:50 a.m., when her school is just 15 minutes away, and starts at 8 a.m. I refuse to put my daughter through that aggravation.

A school bus tracking app could help alleviate many parents’ worries, whether their child is special needs or not. I was gratified to learn that District 32 City Councilman Eric Ulrich is on board with this legislation. The proposal, Intro. 1099-2018, is now a live bill that the NYC Council’s Committee on Education is expected to take up this fall.

According to Skyer & Associates, the two most important things you can do right now are:

1. Contact your City Council member. If they aren’t already a co-sponsor, ask them to add their name to the bill and commit to vote in favor of it. And if they already are a co-sponsor, thank them!

2. Spread the word. Talk to other special needs families and let the school your child attends know about this bill.

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