Queens parents demand air-conditioned buses for special needs children

 The Parents to Improve School Transportation presented a grievance letter to bus owners.

The Parents to Improve School Transportation presented a grievance letter to bus owners.

protestOn Monday August 5, a dozen parents, grandparents, children and neighbors demanded the right to air conditioning for riders and workers on the school bus in hot weather. The target was the Ozone Park bus yard of companies known by several different names (eg. Little Richie, Lorinda, Little Linda) but apparently run by the same owners.

The group Parents to Improve School Transportation (PIST) presented the bus yard office with a letter co-signed by seven parents in four boroughs, all of whose children have experienced issues caused by insufficient or nonexistent air conditioning, together with other problems such as no bus for the first week of summer school, unannounced route changes, and lengthy trips. This same letter has been sent to agencies which have the power to fine the company for violations.

Although a relatively new city code requires air conditioning on buses transporting students with disabilities, here are the rules which the Department of Education shares with parents: Special education students are entitled to free transportation, but medical documentation must be provided to explain why the child requires air conditioning, travel time limits, or other accommodations. The PIST letter charges that certain children whose doctors have verified that they are prone to seizures or asthma were placed on summer school buses which are not properly cooled. All of the parents described children coming home wet with perspiration, dehydrated, lethargic and/or flushed.

At the rally, Mrs. Belinda Barnett Andrea, a parent leader at several schools in District 75, explained to a local reporter that she has had to put her son Frankie on the asthma machine after he got off the bus, despite her earlier complaints which led to inspections by the DOE’s Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT). According to her and Cheryl Ocampo, another Queens mom cited in the letter, inspectors took the company’s word for it that dual A/C was provided and closed the cases without first checking with the parents. Ocampo is the Filipino American founder of Queens County Parents Autism Coalition and the mother of 11-year-old special needs girl Zariah.

PIST co-founder Sara Catalinotto said, “So many of the parents we’ve met in our three years complain about this group of companies, which lack the same standards for vehicles, training or pay scale as the fully unionized companies. With such a bad reputation among parents, why does OPT favor this company?”

PIST dad Johnnie Stevens added that “While DOE justified provoking a strike and dismissing almost 2,000 experienced school bus drivers and matrons in the name of ‘competitive bids,’ it gave away two-year extensions to the companies in this yard.”

During the hour-long protest, picketers observed many buses entering the yard in poor condition, with windows open, and/or with confusing signage. They also gave out flyers encouraging parents of school bus riders to file civil rights complaints, support pending state bill A 8060, and organize before September. PIST can be reached at pistnyc@gmail.com or 347-504-3310 and on Facebook: PIST NYC.

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