Giving Parents, Schools Access to School Bus GPS Data Will Make Our Most Vulnerable Students Safer
Int. 1099-2018 Will Provide Parents, Schools with Location Monitoring for School Buses
New York, NY – Legislation introduced last week in the City Council would require GPS devices to be installed on all school buses contracted with the Department of Education’s (DOE) Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT). It would also require OPT to provide real-time GPS location data to authorized individuals, such as parents and school administrators, and eliminate the problem of bus drivers and escorts fielding frantic and angry calls from parents and schools when they are supposed to be focused on doing their jobs safely.
The new legislation was introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos and is co-sponsored by Education Chair Mark Treyger and Council Member Chaim Deutch who worked on an earlier version of the bill as a staffer for Council Member Michael Nelson in 2000. The bill comes as a result of years of complaints by schools, parents, and advocates about the many systemic issues plaguing OPT, including missing buses, chronic delays in bus arrivals and pick-ups, poor routing, failure to abide by medical codes for disabled students, a lack of specific training for drivers and escorts working with disabled children, and unsanctioned routing changes.
"No parent should wonder where their child is or when their child is finally getting home from a school bus ride gone off track. Parents would rest assured knowing when and where their school bus is to pick up or drop off their child using an app on their phone," said Council Member Ben Kallos a new parent. "After trying to work with the Office of Pupil Transportation for years I am disappointed that despite every promise parents still don't know where a school bus is with their child. Thank you to Education Chair Mark Treyger for his leadership, Council Member Chaim Deutsch who has spent 18 years working on this issue starting under then Council Member Michael Nelson."
Students with identified disabilities comprise two-thirds of the students who ride a city-contracted school bus, and they often travel longer distances to receive appropriate schooling because of their disability. The start of this 2018-19 school year has highlighted many frightening, highly publicized incidents of special needs students going missing on buses for hours or being dropped off at the wrong address, as well as the more mundane issues of chronically late and no-show buses. A school bus tracking app could immediately and dramatically improve the overall landscape by providing families with timely, critical information: where the bus is.
“With all the complaints we hear from parents about no-show buses, buses that arrive late, and long bus rides that far exceed the time limit allowed for certain students with disabilities, we are eager for this legislation to move forward,” said Kim Sweet, Executive Director of Advocates for Children of New York, a non-profit organization advocating for New York students who face barriers to academic success, focusing on students from low-income backgrounds. “Students with disabilities should not have their education shortchanged by problems with transportation, and this common-sense measure is an important step toward ensuring they are in the classroom where they belong.”
“When parents put their children on a school bus, they expect their kids will travel safely and arrive on time. The recent issues we have seen, where buses fail to show up and students are stranded on buses for hours on end, are absolutely terrifying, especially when it comes to students with disabilities and very young children. What a horrible way to start the year for these kids and families. We must do everything to ensure our students’ safety and alleviate distress for their parents. Council Member Kallos’ bill is a step forward to protecting children riding school buses. Installing GPS technology on school buses will provide much needed relief to parents, but most significantly, will help keep our children safe,” said Speaker Corey Johnson.
“I thank Council Members Kallos, Treyger, and Deutsch for introducing legislation to mandate GPS devices on all school buses contracted by DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation. Parents and guardians cannot be denied the fundamental right to know where their children are, especially as they are being transported to and from school. For families with students who face disabilities or other medical challenges, this can be a matter of life and death. In 2018, there is zero reason why we haven’t developed a secure app to track a school bus along its route in real- time. OPT needs to move out of the dark ages and outfit its contracted bus fleet with the technology, and if they won’t do it on their own the City Council should require it by law. I urge my colleagues across the city to co-sponsor Intro 1099, and I pledge to do what I can to bring this measure to passage,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
“Parents should not have to worry about the whereabouts of their children during bus rides to and from school. This sensible legislation makes use of the technology we all use every day to provide parents the peace of mind they need and deserve. I thank Council Members Kallos and Deutsch for their partnership,” said Council Member Mark Treyger Chair, Committee on Education.
“A parent should never be in the position of not knowing where their young child is,” said Councilman Chaim Deutsch. “As a father of five, I’ve experienced that terrifying feeling of losing sight of my child for a few seconds in a public place. Parents who put their kids on a school bus go through that same feeling every day, but we can do better. This bill will arm New York City parents with real-time information about their child’s whereabouts and help keep our students safe. Kudos to Councilmember Kallos for taking the lead on this vital issue, and I look forward to working together, along with Education Chair Mark Treyger, to pass Intro 1099.”
“Giving our most vulnerable families basic, helpful information is a measure of respect,” said special education attorney Regina Skyer, whose law firm represents thousands of New York City families with special needs students. “In the hands of parents, a bus tracker app provides critical information to manage a busy day. But the intangible benefits are even greater—some peace of mind that a mother or father knows where their disabled child is.”
According to OPT, two-thirds of the school bus fleet, including all special education buses, have “Navman” GPS installed, and the DOE has approved funds to outfit the remaining buses. However, OPT has cited ‘privacy concerns’ in the past when shutting down the idea of parents gaining access to GPS data. Yet hundreds of school districts around the country have successfully worked with software developers and bus companies to provide similar tracking services to schools and families. Without real-time access to GPS data for parents and school officials, the money invested in outfitting our contracted bus fleet with GPS capabilities has a very limited return for New Yorkers.