A dozen people — some children with disabilities, their parents, grandparents and neighbors — went to the New York City borough of Queens on Aug. 5 to demand air conditioning for riders and workers on school buses in hot weather. The target was the Ozone Park bus yard of companies known by several different names — Little Richie, Lorinda, Little Linda — but apparently run by the same owners.
The group Parents to Improve School Transportation (PIST) presented the bus yard office with a letter co-signed by seven parents in four New York boroughs, all of whose children have experienced issues caused by insufficient or nonexistent air conditioning, together with other problems such as no bus for the first week of summer school, unannounced route changes and lengthy trips. The same letter was sent to agencies that have the power to fine the companies for violations.
Although a relatively new city code requires air conditioning on buses transporting students with disabilities, the Department of Education informs parents that while special education students are entitled to free transportation, medical documentation must be provided to explain why the child requires air conditioning, travel time limits or other accommodations. The PIST letter charges that certain children, whose doctors have verified that they are prone to seizures or asthma, were placed on summer school buses that were not properly cooled. All the parents described children coming home wet with perspiration, dehydrated, lethargic and/or flushed.
At the rally, Belinda Barnett Andrea, a parent leader at several schools in District 75, explained to a local reporter that she has had to put her son Frankie on his asthma machine after he got off the bus, even though her earlier complaints led to inspections by the DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation. Cheryl Ocampo, another Queens mom cited in the letter, and Andrea say inspectors took the company’s word for it that dual air conditioning was provided and closed the cases without first checking with the parents.
PIST co-founder Sara Catalinotto said: “So many of the parents we’ve met in our three years complain about this group of companies, which lacks the standards for vehicles, training or pay scale used by the fully unionized companies. With such a bad reputation among parents, why does OPT favor this company?”
PIST dad Johnnie Stevens added, “While DOE justified provoking a strike and dismissing almost 2,000 experienced school bus drivers and matrons in the name of ‘competitive bids,’ it gave away two-year extensions to the companies in this yard.”
During the hour-long protest, the pickets observed many buses entering the yard in poor condition, with windows open and/or with confusing signage. They also gave out flyers encouraging parents of school bus riders to file civil rights complaints, support pending state bill A 8060 and organize before September. PIST can be reached at [email protected], (347) 504-3310 and on Facebook: PIST NYC.