Parents to Improve School Transportation (PIST) and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, after receiving reports of dangerously overheated school buses, collaborated on a July 11 press conference calling for adequate air conditioning.
Given a platform from which to demand safer school busing, families from many neighborhoods and cultures stepped up and spoke.
About 23,000 students with disabilities are mandated to continue their instruction and therapies during the summer. Transportation to specialized programs is their civil right.
City code 19-605 requires air conditioning on the vehicles in warm weather. However, parents who complain about its lack are told that they must follow time-consuming steps to add air conditioning to the Individualized Education Program. Due to erratic routing, even students whose paperwork is in order can be stuck traveling in hot buses with the resulting risk of dehydration, seizures and heart or lung problems.
The press conference was attended by 25 people, ranging from longtime special education advocates — such as the District 75 Council, Comité Timón and My Time Inc. — to new self-advocates.
Thirteen-year-old Ahjaah Jewett told how she had to call 911 from inside the bus for emergency relief from heat-related symptoms three days after her mother had lodged a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Pupil Transportation.
The event was widely seen on cable and Internet media.
PIST, founded on the premise that the quality of busing conditions can make or break equal access to education, contributed signs and comments in English and Spanish. One speaker raised the need for the mayor to restore “Employee Protection Provisions” in past and future contracts with the bus drivers’ union “so we do not lose thousands of the drivers and attendants who already know how to handle the air conditioning, signals, traffic and our children.”
In New York City as in Boston, anti-union efforts by the bus companies to push down labor and equipment costs also hurt the riders. More about the battle for school bus rights can be found at pistnyc.org or PIST NYC on Facebook.