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Blackboard jungle on yellow school buses

Schools buses are supposed to be safe havens for kids but local parents say it doesn’t always work out that way. Deborah Blowe, a Coney Island resident whose daughter attends the fourth grade at P.S. 90 at 2840 West 12th Street, said her child was seriously injured when coming home on a school bus. Last October, a group of kids riding the bus pushed the girl into the emergency exit, her mother said. “I had to take her to Coney Island Hospital to get six stitches,” Blowe said. Incidents like this can happen because school buses are generally not supervised by adults other than the drivers, who, obviously, must keep their eyes on the road. Only buses carrying special education – not general education – students are required to have bus matrons, Richie Scarpa, director of the city Department of Education’s Office of Pupil Transportation, explained at a meeting of District 21’s Community Education Council (CEC). “That’s a fiscal decision that’s been made,” he said. “I do not see in the near future escorts on general ed buses.” The explanation that there’s just not enough cash to go around was unsatisfactory to Blowe. “Whenever there’s something with children, there’s always money involved. Safety goes out the window,” she asserted. Individual schools can take steps to have their buses for general education students supervised. “We allow the school to put a school aide on the bus,” Scarpa said. Parents can also get involved by volunteering to be bus matrons. “If we have parents who are willing to do it,” Scarpa said, “we will pay for the training.” Parents should speak to administrators at their children’s schools to inquire about becoming bus matrons. Seat belts have also become a source of frustration for parents. At the CEC meeting, they wondered why most students don’t wear seat belts while on school buses – and why some vehicles don’t even have seat belts. Scarpa said any bus built after July 1987 must have seat belts. “However, there is no requirement that they be used” when transporting general education students, he said. But the story is different for special education students. “By law, special education buses…are required to have seat belts and the seat belts are required to be used,” Scarpa said. Parents can report concerns about activity on school buses by contacting the Office of Pupil Transportation at 718-392-8855. “If you think a driver is not doing their job or is driving recklessly, I beg you, use that number,” Scarpa encouraged. “Parents are our eyes and ears out there.” For more information about school bus guidelines, log onto the Office of Pupil Transportation’s website, www.opt-osfns.org/opt.

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