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School Bus Strike a Challenge for Special Needs Students

Published January 31, 2013

January 31, 2013 – The two-week-old strike by New York City school bus drivers will continue, as the city rejected the union’s proposal for a “cooling-off period” during which the drivers would return to work and the city would stop seeking bids for a new bus contract.

The strike has disproportionately affected students with special needs. Only 152,000 of New York’s more than 1.1 million school children ride the school system’s yellow buses, but 54,000 of them are students with special needs, many of whom use wheelchairs.

The cost of busing students has risen to $1.1 billion, and the city says it must take competitive bids.  The Amalgamated Transit Union wants protections for current workers.

Many special needs students rely on the yellow buses to take them to school. During the strike, only two-thirds of special needs students have been able to attend school, by riding public transportation or being driven by family members or caretakers.  The city has provided free transportation passes and taxi reimbursement for students, and has posted school materials online for students who cannot get to school.

The high cost of the school bus program is partly due to the special needs of students. Some students have restrictions on how much time they can spend in the bus or the number of other students they can ride with. There are also requirements for additional bus attendants and escorting of children from door to door.  The Education Department spends approximately $13,000 per year to bus each special education student, more than four times the cost for other students.

Some parents said that the city’s offer of reimbursement for taxi services was not helping them, either because they did not have the money to make the initial payments, or because their children were not able to ride in taxis alone.

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