Mother fights City Hall for air-conditioned buses for special-needs childrenBy Cheryl Ocampo
My daughter Zariah, like thousands of children with disabilities, attends the summer school program of District 75 in New York City Public Schools.
Each year for the past five years since my daughter has been in grade school, I have filed numerous complaints with the New York City Department of Education, Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) for insufficient air conditioning or no air conditioning on the mini school bus that transports my daughter, now 11, to and from summer school.
In the beginning, I was advised that an air-conditioned mini school bus was not a requirement. If I wanted one, I would have to obtain a prescription from my daughter’s pediatrician to have an “air-conditioned mini school bus” added to her Individualized Education Program (IE). The IEP is a legal document that defines the objectives of a child with a disability. The idea behind this federal regulation is to help teachers and service providers understand the student’s condition and how the disability affects his or her learning process. All schools must comply with one’s IEP.
Nevertheless, there is a New York City Administrative Code which states the following: “Any bus or other motor vehicle transporting a child with a disability to and from a school in the city pursuant to any agreement or contract shall be air-conditioned when the ambient outside temperature exceeds seventy degrees Fahrenheit.”
So not only are the bus companies violating the IEP for those children who are medically coded for an air- conditioned school bus like my daughter, they are breaking the law. However, year after year, the school buses are not held accountable for their actions. That is why summer after summer, the same issue occurs.
Parents are forced to drive their children back and forth to school. For those who work such as myself, we are forced to put their children on the bus anyway. Luckily for me, my daughter rides with a school bus paraprofessional. Therefore, I know my daughter is being closely cared for.
The bus companies try to say that air conditioning on the school bus is working even though the air conditioning on some of the older school buses have only front vents that blow out hot air. The bus companies are supposed to send out the newer school buses with front and back air conditioning vents. It really doesn’t take a scientist to figure it out. Yet every summer the bus companies send out the older buses.
I know other parents who experience this same issue summer after summer. We have filed numerous complaints and followed up by emails and phone calls just to have the bus companies either fix the air conditioning or send a replacement school bus with dual air conditioning.
I started a petition a few years ago to enforce the New York City Administrative Code Title 19 Chapter 6 Section 19-605. I currently have been speaking with Sara Catalinotto of Parents To Improve School Transportation (PIST NYC) to see how we can resolve this issue once and for all.
It’s extremely dangerous to have anyone riding in a hot metal box called a school bus during the summer when temperatures are reaching a heat index in the 100s.
I filed my complaint for insufficient air conditioning on Tuesday, 7/16. An inspector was not sent out until Friday, 7/19. I don’t understand how in this extreme heat wave my complaint or any of the other parents who have filed complaints for the same reason did not get resolved right away. I think I know why: Because the administration bureaucrats sit in their air-conditioned offices and cars and it’s not their kids who are suffering.
Cheryl Ocampo is the executive director and founder of the Queens County Parents Autism Coalition, Inc. She is also the outreach and information specialist at United We Stand of New York, a nonprofit advocating for families of children with disabilities.