Monday, February 18, 2013

And when the bus strike is all over…

22 days, 22 days, 22 school days. It’s like my students had a summer break in the middle of the school year. Except, their summer break is usually 10 days. They’ve never been out of school for 22 days, unless they had major surgery or a serious illness.

So Wednesday, they will roll into school and I will happily greet the chaos that is our normal. But what have we learned at the expense of them missing 22 school days?

I can only hope that we have started a conversation about why special education students have to be bused all across New York City and beyond to have their educational needs met. I hope we have realized that we must do better.

Of course, I was ecstatic Friday afternoon to hear the possibility of the strike ending and in almost disbelief when I heard it was officially over Friday evening. It’s hard to believe that a letter from 5 Democratic mayoral candidates was all it took. I also like to think that schools being less fearful of the press this past week also hastened the end. When the face of the bus strike became the children with special needs who weren’t getting to school, 1,285 never made it at all, ignoring the strike was no longer an option for at least some politicians.

Even in my excitement that I will be reunited with my students this week, after recharging my batteries over this long weekend, Bloomberg and Walcott continue to exasperate me. With the claim of saving $60 million, Bloomberg and Walcott are calling themselves the victors and saying that they “put children first,” after my students lost almost 5 weeks of school. On Friday after the Democratic mayoral candidates came together to craft a letter that ended the bus strike, Bloomberg and Walcott issued their first official statements in weeks, gloating. And before this, Walcott even made a statement saying that students whose educations were disrupted will still be expected to participate in state testing, which we all know will lead to their scores being held against their teachers.

Now I’m getting asked how will my students make up the lost instruction time. To be honest, they won’t. Most of the students with the most significant special needs had the most difficulties getting to school; they already attend school year round. In addition, there is already a shortage of Occupational, Physical, and Speech Therapist; there is no way they will be able to make up missed therapies during the school day. This leaves it on the parents to find therapists who will come into their homes, which is extremely difficult to do for even the most savvy parents.

So its time to make a plan for what needs to be done going forward.

The DOE’s Office of Pupil transportation needs to be held accountable for creating routes that are efficient.

The bus drivers and matrons’ union, ATU 1181, needs to create a platform that legitimizes their concerns, rather than just fighting for job protections. They now have until the next mayor is elected to do this.

NYC Schools, in particular District 75, needs to do a self-examination. Why are students being bused near and far to receive their educations?

Parents need to push the NYC DOE to provide appropriate educations in their communities, ideally their community schools.

I hope to do my part by continuing this blog and developing a strong community of teachers, teacher educators and advocates who recognize the improvements that need to happen to special education in New York City. Let’s not just be satisfied with getting our kids back to school, let’s make this system better so that this never happens again.

I’m looking forward to giving you an update on Wednesday, our first day back!


  1. The DOE's roll out of special education reforms this fall mandated that, unless there were extreme needs, a majority of students with special needs would begin attending their local/zoned schools. Parents could apply for the standard variances: hard-ship, travel, work and sibling variances, none of which are guaranteed, if they felt the local/zoned school was not appropriate. As these students aged up, more and more of their peers (students with EIPs) would join them in their local/zoned schools.
    The options for the child with more severe needs, such as the majority of students in D 75, may not include their local/zoned schools but, as D 75 has so many small local programs in local/zoned schools, we could see a lessening of self-contained schools that are usually at a distance from most students homes.

    I hope that you have a great day tomorrow when the rest of you students return to school.

  2. I think this initiative is a great move in the right direction. My only fear is that we accept that D75 off sites as children being in local/zone schools, because really they're now just being warehoused in self-contained wings and the community schools take no ownership. One principal/ "school" for multiple sites across a city is not a good model for special education, especially for students with the most significant special needs. These students need to truly be absorbed by community schools.