Much as you can count on Autumn in New York City to bring colorful leaves and earlier and earlier Halloween decorations in stores (wait, is that a Santa display I see?!), you can also count on busing issues. But this year busing issues are, as the kids like to say, “extra.” The Department of Education (DOE) received approximately 130,000 complaints in just the month of September! Even the DOE is acknowledging how bad things are (the Schools Chancellor even fired the person in charge of the city’s yellow bus system) and just setup a new Twitter account, @nycschoolbuses, which will be dedicated to updating families in real time with information about bus service. After my umpteenth call today about bus routes being changed and late or non-existent buses, I realized I need to post some information. First of all, for more detailed information on busing, I highly recommend visiting the Advocates for Children of New York
Some Background on NYC DOE Transportation Services
The DOE provides transportation services to students based on their grade and distance from school. In addition, students with disabilities may be provided transportation on their Individualized Education Programs (IEP). Generally, students in K-6 receive yellow school buses contracted by the DOE. The Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT), in coordination with the schools, is responsible for the bus routes. Students in K-2 are eligible for free transportation if they live ½ mile or more from their schools. Students in 3rd through 6th grades must live one mile or more from their schools to be eligible for free transportation. Students in grades 7-12 are eligible for full-fare Metrocards if they live 1 ½ miles or more from their schools.
In order to qualify for yellow bus service, students must live in the same district as their school or borough (depending upon the program), with the exception of those students in temporary housing. Students with disabilities do not automatically receive yellow school bus transportation, but may receive it, as discussed earlier.
Busing for students in temporary housing
The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (McKinney Act) is a federal law that provides federal money for homeless shelter programs. Among its many provisions, it seeks to ensure that homeless children have transportation to and from school free of charge, allowing children to attend the school they were last enrolled in. A recent study conducted by Advocates for Children revealed that 114,659 children, an all-time high, were considered homeless at some point during the 2017-18 school year. To put that into perspective, there are approximately 1.1 million students attending NYC schools. I recently received a call from a client in a shelter in the Bronx. She said she had to move out of her home recently and into the shelter and didn’t know whom to turn to for getting busing for her children to their schools. The McKinney-Vento or Homeless liaison for the district where the child goes to school is responsible for the transportation of those children in temporary housing. It should be noted that this applies to students attending charter schools as well, in most cases. Should parents transfer their children to the local school where they are temporarily living, the students are still entitled to the same transportation services offered to those students permanently living in the district. The responsible school district must provide transportation for the duration of the temporary housing and through the end of the year when the student finds permanent housing; and sometimes longer in certain instances.
Transportation must be provided to students who are temporarily housed within 50 miles, one way, of their school building. I have had this occur when students are rendered homeless for one reason or another and end up temporarily staying with a relative who may not live in the city.
What to do if you have a transportation issue
If you have a transportation issue, the first step is to call the school. Have the school contact OPT to address the problem. Note that it typically takes 5-7 days to route a student once OPT receives her information from her school.
The next step is to contact OPT at (718) 392-8855 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask to file a complaint and then write down the complaint number.
Finally, make sure you call OPT every day there is a problem and continue to keep a record of the complaint numbers and issues. Do not be afraid to ask to speak with an OPT supervisor if you feel your issues are not being resolved. Finally, if your child has transportation on his IEP, you may have a right to file for an impartial hearing over busing issues.
Hopefully the silver lining of the issues of busing this year will be that the DOE has to finally address this painful Autumn ritual.
Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions.